ZSL to monitor first hawksbill turtle with satellites
Friday 4 August 2006
The movements of the critically endangered hawksbill turtle are to be tracked for the first time by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
New funds from the European Association of Zoo’s and Aquaria’s Shellshock campaign will help ZSL pay for a state-of-the-art satellite tag to start pioneering work monitoring a hawksbill turtle. It means the migratory path of a female turtle can be observed for the first time as it moves across the ocean. Visitors to the ZSL website (www.zsl.org) will be able to monitor the progress of the turtle once the tag is in place.
ZSL’s marine turtle project has been monitoring and protecting the turtles in isolated coastal areas of northern Mozambique for three years. The careful observation and regular patrols means poaching of eggs and nesting turtles in the study area has been virtually eradicated. Already more than 385 nests from green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) have been recorded, protected and monitored by the local Mozambican team working on behalf of ZSL.
Within the study area, 87 per cent of nests were found to belong to green turtles and the remaining 50 nests to hawksbill turtles. This indicates how important the beaches are for hawksbills as no other beaches in East Africa are known to have such high numbers.
It is hoped the tag will be in place by the end of this year and Alison Shaw, ZSL’s Aquatic Conservation Manager, explained: “We hope the satellite tag will enable us to track the turtles as they migrate across the Indian Ocean.
“By knowing their patterns of movement, we will be able to better safeguard them and make sure that they return to our beaches to nest again.”
The research so far has revealed that the turtles return to the same beach to lay eggs up to eight times in one season, choosing nesting sites very close to their previous nests. With the eradication of poaching, hatching success rates shot up with more than 70 per cent of the turtle hatchlings making it to the sea. It is also hoped that genetic sampling will allow useful analysis to identify the relationships between turtle populations and potential migratory routes.
Alison Shaw added: “The surveys allow the development of the regional management strategy for the protection of these endangered species.
“The project has also demonstrated the importance and success of training and employing local monitors and the transfer of skills for turtle conservation and research to Mozambique.”
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Notes to editors
The Mozambique turtle conservation project is part of the Maluane – Biodiversity and Tourism Project. It was set up in 2002 to ensure the community-based protection of marine turtles and their nests, which were being raided and killed by outside fishers, and to acquire the relevant scientific information on turtle populations to allow the development of regional management strategies.
Hawksbills in the Indian Ocean are among the top ten turtle conservation priorities.
Trade statistics going back more than 100 years indicate massive declines of up to 95 per cent in hawksbill populations, specifically in Madagascar, Seychelles and Sri Lanka.
There is a historic international trade in hawksbill shell, especially between the mid 1960s and early 1990s, which greatly reduced the sizes of hawksbill populations.
Coastal development of nesting beaches poses an increasing threat to nesting populations.
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. ZSL runs London Zoo and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in other countries worldwide. For further information please visit www.zsl.org
Gorilla Kingdom – opening soon at London Zoo
London Zoo’s most ambitious project ever, Gorilla Kingdom, will open Easter 2007, bringing the forests of Central Africa to the urban jungle.
The £5.3million 6,000m2 development will provide an awesome natural habitat for our gorillas and give visitors the chance to get closer to these incredible animals.
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