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Seacology are saving the world’s most endangered turtles

Published on May 7, 2014 by   ·   No Comments

2_3PHOTO CREDITS: Baby turtle photos courtesy of Lamu Marine Conservation Trust (LAMCOT)


 It’s hardly surprising that sea turtles are in danger of extinction. They are famed the world over for their meat and highly sought after for their eggs, their blood is claimed to have medicinal properties and, unfortunately for them, they are encased in a shell that is used to produce beautiful jewellery and trinkets. Turtles have always been a prized catch; they are lumbering creatures on land that once flipped on their backs are defenceless.

Historically they were kept alive on ships for weeks providing sailors with a great source of fresh meat. Consequently their numbers have been decreasing slowly for over 400 years with laws put into effect in Bermuda as long ago as 1620 to protect “so excellent a fishe”. More recently, large scale commercial methods of capture (peaking at over 17,000 tonnes in the late 1960s), imprecise fishing methods, and extensive beach development, have left five of the seven species of sea turtle on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

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The Kemp’s Ridley, Hawksbill, and Leatherback sea turtles are listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ (extremely high risk of extinction in the wild) while the Loggerhead and Green are listed as ’Endangered’ (high risk of extinction in the wild). So how can the decline in the number of turtles be slowed, stopped or ideally reversed? One way to help is to ensure that sea turtle nesting beaches are protected, and Seacology, an American-based conservation organisation is doing just that. Seacology was founded in 1990 by Dr Paul Cox, an American ethnobotanist who has spent his life living in small villages in far-flung locations looking for new medicines derived from plants. He’s been so successful that he was chosen by TIME magazine as one of 11 “Heroes of Medicine”.

At the time he was living in a community in Samoa where villagers needed to build a school and were in negotiation to sell the logging rights to 30,000 acres of rainforest in order to pay for it. Dr Cox stepped in and, with the help of friends and colleagues, founded Seacology and raised enough money to build the school. In exchange the ancestral forest was saved and the villagers agreed to conserve the forest in perpetuity. From this auspicious beginning the central tenet of Seacology has been to “provide a benefit for the village in exchange for the protection of its natural resources.” So where do the turtles come into all this?

 

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Seacology’s latest project is on the idyllic Kiwayu Island in Kenya, a small island within the greater Kiunga Marine National Reserve. Kiwayu is a turtle lover’s paradise with three species visiting the island’s shores to lay eggs (Green, Hawksbill, and Olive Ridley), and another two feeding on the coral reefs of the marine reserve. Unfortunately the turtles and the marine reserve itself are under pressure from overfishing and the expanding tourist presence on the island, and sadly illegal consumption of turtle eggs and meats are still reported. To help combat these problems Seacology is funding the construction of an office for coordination of conservation activities, traditional huts (bandas) to be used as shelters and field meeting sites and a much needed freshwater well for the community.

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They are also providing a co-management plan for the reserve and educational materials to spread the word about the turtle conservation project. In exchange the islanders have promised protection of the turtle nesting sites, as well as conservation of 618 acres of coral reef ecosystem for a minimum duration of ten years. So this is good news, right? Yes, however due to the turtles’ late sexual maturity and the low survival rate of their young (only 1% of eggs laid will survive to adulthood) repopulation of the oceans will be a slow process. But, thanks to Seacology and other conservation agencies like them, it will happen and turtles may well live to see another 100 million years. For more information about Seacology and its conservation projects: www.seacology.org

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