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Like many other sea turtle species, hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered with a decreasing population trend. That is why a recently published study showing a thriving new generation of hawksbill sea turtles in Belize’s’ Glover’s Reef Atoll is so exciting. The protected waters of Glover’s Reef Atoll are an excellent example of what wildlife protection legislation can do for threatened or endangered animals and plants.

“The study validates the importance of Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve for the survival of such an iconic species. The thriving hawksbill turtles are a wonderful success story for the government and people of Belize and its partners in their efforts toward the sustained management and conservation of the Glover’s Reef Atoll,” says Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator.

 

Glover Reef study

As I mentioned above, the success of this new generation has been published in the journal Endangered Species Research by Samantha Strindberg, Virginia R. Burns Perez, and Janet Gibson of Wildlife Conservation Society; Robin A. Coleman of Wildlife Conservation Society and Sawfish Cunsulting LTD,; Cathi L. Campbell of Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Florida; and Isaias Majil of the Belize Fisheries Department.

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The study titled, “In-water assessments of sea turtles at Glover’s Reef Atoll, Belize,” shows findings of the coral reef systems, surrounding the Glover Reef Atoll, providing refuge to over 1,000 juvenile hawksbill sea turtles and smaller numbers of green and loggerhead turtles as well. The field research for these findings took place in between 2007 and 2013 and included 12 snorkel surveys using safe, tested methods of catch, examine, tag, and release with sea turtles.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Technical Coordinator, Virgina Burns Perez says, “The findings of our research show that juvenile hawksbill turtles are thriving at Glover’s Reef- extremely good news for this endangered species. Strongholds for the species such as this one should become a model for other foraging and nesting areas that are important for the hawksbill turtle.” She emphasizes how important of an example this can be for other endangered or threatened species affected heavily by human impact.

Glover Reef Atoll is a part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World heritage site, and the second largest coral reef system in the western hemisphere. It is not only important in these regard and as a marine biodiverse hot spot, but is also critical to the economy of Belize.

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Setting a precedent for protection

In this case, WCS worked closely with the Belize Fisheries Department and other local stakeholders to set up a conservation initiative that would protect this important biodiverse site.  While constructing the plan, the hawksbill sea turtle was chosen as a target species for conservation within the scope of protected waters.  WCS Belize Country Director, Nicole Auil Gomez comments on the choice,” A healthy population of hawksbill turtles at Glover’s Reef has positive implications for recovery of the species in Belize and the wider Caribbean region. Once these young hawksbills mature they leave the Atoll and can travel incredible distances.”

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Jason Patlis, WCS’s Director for Marine Conservation adds to the excitement, “This is great news on two levels: the discovery of a robust population of juvenile hawksbill sea turtles means a brighter future for this highly endangered species, and the protections afforded this population within the Glover’s Reef Atoll once again demonstrates the importance and effectiveness of well-managed marine protected areas.”

 

 

 

Endangered Sea turtles and what you can do to help

Hawksbill sea turtles and other species of sea turtle are all listed at some status on the threatened spectrum, and this study is a great example of that what we do in our day to day lives can have a positive impact on their survival!

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Sea turtles are a fundamental asset in marine ecosystems and without them we could see some major changes out in the ocean. First of all, they aid in preserving sea grass beds, an important shelter and resource for many other organisms we need. This in turn benefits coral reef systems as well that then benefit commercially valuable species such as shrimp, lobster and tuna. You can see it is all one big cause and effect. Sea turtles have been around for the last 100 million years and thus it is no wonder they have left their mark in marine ecosystems. In addition to being valuable players in marine ecosystems, they also have major cultural significance and tourism value for many country’s economies.

Sadly the majority of the reasons why sea turtles are declining are at our hands. Human impact is unfortunately the cause of many endangered species due to pollution, habitat loss, hunting, increasing ocean temperatures, oil spills, and sadly the list goes on. While hunting is still a problem for internationally protected animals like sea turtles, accidental catching in fishing lines is also a major threat. And don’t get me started on pollution. Between plastics and toxic runoff sea turtles and other marine organism don’t have a chance unless we start to make a difference and here are a few easy ways to help sea turtles:

  1. Dispose of waste properly and recycle and reduce chemical use: sounds easy but it is critical people! It is not enough anymore just to take care of your own waste but help others improve their waste management.
  2. Participate in beach cleanups: or lake, pond, stream, creek, river, you name it, help keep it clean!
  3. Turn off lights on the beach in sea turtle territory: This can interfere with sea turtle reproduction. Sea turtles already reproduce very slowly and have a high mortality rate when young. Check with your local government on ways to help keep beaches dark at night during nesting season.
  4. Volunteer to help protect sea turtles nests: This is a thing! If you are fortunate enough to live in a place where sea turtles nest check in with local nature preserves or your local government.

 

References and photos courtesy of:

http://phys.org/news/2016-11-belize-glover-reef-refuge-sea.html

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/hawksbill-turtle/

http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8005/0

http://www.worldwildlife.org/species/sea-turtle