| Authors||D.J. Norde, J.P. van Rossum|
|Title||Sea Turtle Conservation on Bonaire. Sea Turtle Club Bonaire 1996 Project Report|
|Journal||Verslagen en Technische Gegevens|
|Abstract||Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles (12°12’N, 68°77’W) is an island in the Caribbean sea, situated about 50 km east of Curacao and 80 km north of the South American continent (Venezuela). Its 288 2 km of land hold about 14,000 inhabitants. Bonaire has a strongly growing population, which is mostly due to immigrants settling on the island. The surrounding waters hold much tropical sea life, which attracks a lot of dive tourism. The present reefs and sea grass beds provide a suitable habitat for juvenile green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles. Seasonal nesting on Bonaire’s beaches is accounted for mostly by the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the hawksbill turtle. Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) are only rarely encountered.|
The Sea Turtle Club Bonaire (STCB) is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation, it’s main goal being the conservation of sea turtles around the island of Bonaire. The strong decline in the presence of sea turtles the past few decades is a result of the developing tourist industry, leading to a loss of potential nesting grounds. On the other hand the illegal capture and poaching of nests. Since the amendment of the Marine Environment Ordinance (A.B. 1984, no. 21) in 1991, which prohibits any handling or possession of turtles or turtle products, turtle fishing has dropped, but still continues on a small scale.
As in 1995, in 1996 the STCB appointed two graduate biology students as project assistants for The Sea Turtle Club 1996 Project. Research took place from June to December in cooperation with the University of Amsterdam. Housing and research facilities were all arranged by the STCB with the help of many sponsoring organisations. During the first month the project assistants were introduced to the Bonairian community by the former year’s project assistant.
During the first two months a dramatic increase in the amount of crawls was obvious. Over the nesting season, the number of crawls found (116) almost tripled compared to the number found in former years (40 in ’93 and 44 in ’95). Much time was spent on the tracking and identifying of individual nesting turtles, in order to confirm the hypothesis about a returning nesting population (cohorts) on Bonaire. Six different nesting turtles were photoidentified in the course of the project. A new nesting ground was discovered on a hotel property beach (Harbour Village Resort), which was surprising, because of its artificial character and high human impact. The cycle of a nest being made and it’s subsequent hatching was filmed on location (probably for the first time on Bonaire). The most important nesting ground remains Klein Bonaire, especially for the hawksbill turtle. A total of 16 nests were excavated and determined for their hatching success.
The STCB 1996 Project had a number of objectives concerning the public awareness of sea turtles in specific and nature conservation in general. The campaign was targeting both the local and the tourist community. Various 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 were published. More generally associated activities were the participation in the organisation of a “World Cleanup Day” and the coaching of “Turtuganan di Bonairu”, an educational snorkel program for local children. On the initiative of the Foundation for the Preservation of Klein Bonaire, a promotional video on the different aspects that make this uninhabited islet so special has been produced. A separate part about the sea turtles was included, in which the disastrous consequences of the possible future developments are evaluated. The video will be broadcasted in various countries For both research and conservation reasons, the diving community was confronted again with the sighting network which worked extremely well. A total of 889 turtle sightings were reported in 1996.
Furthermore, the project assistants engaged in a lot of side-activities such as dealing with stranded turtles, gathering information on illegal fishing and meetings with other NGO’s.
In October, a three day long international platform meeting on conservation areas was organised on Bonaire. The STCB was presented its recent sea turtle nesting figures, and the importance of Klein Bonaire as main nesting ground was emphasized. The many attending parties (Dutch and Antillian government representatives, WWF and other NGO’s, researchers and land owners) came some steps closer in the safeguarding of important nature areas on the Dutch Antilles and Aruba.
In November, representatives of different NGO’s, including the STCB were able to discuss some recent problems with a delegation of chairmen of the main parties of the Dutch parliament. On this occasion, the threats that face the Lay Bay area were brought under the attention by the STCB. It is believed and hoped for that action on both the Klein Bonaire and Lac Bay issues will be undertaken.
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