| Authors||N.P. Valkering, P. Van Nugteren, T.J.W. Van Eijck|
|Title||Sea Turtle Conservation on Bonaire. Sea Turtle Club Bonaire 1995 Project Report and Long Term Proposal|
|Journal||Verslagen en Technische Gegevens|
|Abstract||Bonaire (12°12’N, 68°77’W), Netherlands Antilles, is famous for its unspoiled coral reefs. Reefs and lush sea grass provide forage and refuge for two species of endangered sea turtle, the green turtle ( Chelonia mydas) and the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). Loggerhead ( Caretta caretta ) and leatherback ( Dermochelys coriacea) turtles are less common but are occasionally encountered. In the local language (Papiamentu) these species are known as ‘turtuga blanku’, ‘turtuga karet’, ‘turtuga kawama’ and ‘turtuga drikil’, respectively. Until recently, turtles were routinely captured and processed. This continues at a low level, despite the fact that it is illegal under the Marine Environment Ordinance (A.B. 1984, no. 21), as amended on 27 June 1991. Turtles are killed mainly for their meat and, in the case of karet, for their shell. This, in addition to egg poaching has led to a decline of the local populations on Bonaire.|
The Sea Turtle Club Bonaire (STCB) is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation, it’s main goal being the conservation of the sea turtles around the island of Bonaire. After the pioneer project in 1993 (Van Eijck & Eckert, 1994), a follow-up of this project was executed in 1995.
In cooperation with WIDECAST, The University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and various local organisations such as the Bonaire Marine Park, an extensive sea turtle research and conservation project has taken place from June to December 1995. Main sponsors of this project were the World Wildlife Fund of The Netherlands, the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, and the Bonaire Trading Company.
A main part of the activities in 1995 consisted of in-sea research on the local juvenile green and hawksbill sea turtles residing in Bonairian coastal waters. Through a large sighting network of divers and snorklers, the juvenile populations have been monitored continuously for six months. More detailed information was collected through direct observations on several locations, where turtles are known to be present regularly (most probably being foraging areas), and through a photoidentification trial. The sighting network is working well on Bonaire. As a result of the publicity given to the project and the enthusiasm of the local diveshops, the STCB is receiving a huge amount of day-to-day information. The studies in 1993 and 1995 revealed that a large group of juvenile sea turtles resides in (mainly east-) Bonairian waters, inhabiting certain fixed locations different periods of time. Photo-identification studies promise to be valuable as a database in the long run.
Also included in the 1995 Project was a thorough monitoring of the nesting activity on Bonairian beaches. Former research revealed that nesting by hawksbill and loggerhead turtles occurs on a small scale (Van Eijck & Eckert, 1994). The nesting activity was examined by ground surveying the nesting beaches regularly.
Nesting still occurs by hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, mainly on Klein Bonaire (39 of the total number of 44 crawls found in 1995). Unfortunately, nothing can be said about any decrease or increase in nesting activity. The total number of crawls documented in 1995 (44) was similar to the number found during the 1993 Project (40). However, new nesting beaches were identified on Klein Bonaire during the 1995 Project. Neither the number of nesting females nor the number of successful nests could be determined, but the data suggests an annual nesting population of 5-12 turtles. Twelve nests were excavated, showing a hatch rate of 0 to 94%.
Since Klein Bonaire is the main location for nesting activity, this islet should retain its unspoiled state. The STCB is urging the Antillean and Dutch Governments to take further action on this point, for example by a ‘Debt for Nature Swap’.
A very important part of the STCB 1995 project consisted of enhancing the public awareness about the endangered status of sea turtles. To inform the public, folders were distributed, posters were sold, information about sea turtle conservation was placed in the museum of the national park and weekly slide shows were given. Also, regular press updates, radio and television interviews and a weekly column in the islands main Papiamentu newspaper were published.
Special attention was paid to the local children. Every school on the island received an information package about sea turtles, consisting of a video, various folders, a booklet, posters, and a slide presentation. In cooperation with the Bonaire Marine Park, children were taken on regular snorkel trips to educate them on underwater life in general. Finally, the STCB organised the coastal cleanup as a part of the World Cleanup Day on 16 September, during which several potential nesting beaches were cleaned.
After the first project in 1993, awareness about sea turtle conservation did increase on Bonaire. This is measured by the increasing enthusiasm and participation of the local people, especially the children. Furthermore, the media proved more interested and cooperative towards the 1995 Project, as compared to 1993. However, still a lot needs to be done.
In order to achieve its goals, the STCB is recommended to continue and extend the research and public awareness activities in future years. The beach and snorkel surveys in future projects can be performed in a similar manner. However, the research should be more focused on the photo-identification study and resident juvenile sea turtles along the east coast. The initiatives to enhance the public awareness must also be extended. Firstly, more educational material must be produced, like mini-posters, booklets and folders, to distribute among the schools. Secondly, the STCB should cooperate with other local organisations to establish an environmental centre. Finally, the search for new sponsoring and fundraising must be continuated, to enable the STCB to extend its activities.
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