Playing tag with turtles
Tuesday 23 May 2006
A satellite tagging system for turtles will give ZSL conservation a massive boost this World Turtle Day.
The tagging system means that for the first time ever, ZSL will be able to track the migratory movements of the critically endangered hawksbill turtles in the Indian Ocean.
For the last three years, ZSL’s marine turtle project has been monitoring and protecting turtles in isolated coastal areas of northern Mozambique, and this work has resulted in the virtual eradication of poaching in the study area.
The project 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.
ZSL is also delighted to announce that we have just received an award from the European Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Shellshock campaign to continue our work.
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.'
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.
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.
The research 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.
We also hope that genetic sampling will allow useful analysis to identify the relationships between turtle populations and identify potential migratory routes.
Ms 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.'