The IOSEA Profile of the Month for September will feature a detailed account of a meeting of interest to IOSEA, held recently in Mauritius. The “Southern Indian Ocean Regional Workshop to Facilitate the Description of Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs), was the latest in a series of technical workshops organised by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The aim is to develop an inventory of candidate EBSAs for endorsement by CBD and eventual inclusion in online repository. The potential connection to IOSEA and its ‘Network of Sites of Importance for Marine Turtles’ stems from the fact that the criteria used by CBD to identify EBSAs will inevitably point to areas that are significant habitats in the life-cycle of marine turtles. More information about this in September…
Apart from the core focus of the Mauritius workshop, the gathering was a good opportunity for networking and learning about other initiatives of relevance to IOSEA.
For many years, BirdLife International has been at the forefront of efforts to address seabird bycatch in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. Part of that effort has been to try to identify important seabird habitats through satellite tracking and, using fisheries data available from regional fisheries management organisations, to identify potential hotspots for fisheries-seabird interactions. Apart from the basic technical challenges of tracking seabirds, the work has had to overcome more mundane issues of building collaboration among seabird researchers who, like many scientists, are reticent to share precious data.
Apparently, the key to BirdLife’s success has been to convince individual researchers that much more can be achieved by combining multiple datasets, and to be absolutely scrupulous and forthright in using and acknowledging data sources. Dr. Ben Lascelles, BirdLife’s Global Marine IBA Officer, based in Cambridge, UK, gave a fascinating presentation of cutting-edge applied research that has already been done. The international turtle community could benefit from a cross-fertilisation of methodologies from the ‘bird world’, particularly in the Indian Ocean, which has lagged behind other ocean basins in mobilising collaborative expertise to address fisheries-turtle interactions.
A team of officers from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), based in Hobart, provided much-needed technical expertise to the workshop. CSIRO had been contracted to assemble an impressive array of datasets for the Indian Ocean relating to geomorphology, oceanography and biogeography, which were prominently displayed on the walls of the venue. A presentation that included details of major oceanic currents and gyres in the Indian Ocean was especially interesting, given the clear implications for movements of marine turtles. Modelling of the flow trajectories of simulated particles can be used to predict where an object might end up or, conversely, from where it may have originated – also interesting from the standpoint of tracking marine debris. One could imagine that a concerted effort to analyse region-wide satellite tracking data in combination with this kind of oceanographic information could reveal some useful insights into turtle migration, as has been done elsewhere. Any takers?
Gwenaelle Le Gurun, Legal Officer at the International Seabed Authority in Kingston, Jamaica, gave an interesting presentation on the ISA’s work, which was probably not well known to many workshop participants, including myself. The ISA is an autonomous body established in 1994 under the aegis of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Among other things it is charged with administering contracts for exploration, prospecting and exploitation of the mineral-rich deep seabed. Through the ISA regime, a number of contracts have already been issued to governments and private commercial concerns for exploration of certain parts of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. China, India and Republic of Korea are among the countries having shown interest in deep-sea exploration in the Indian Ocean. In the absence of clear information on the pelagic distribution of marine turtles, the implications of opening up the high-seas to mineral exploitation may not be understood for some time, but it is worth keeping these endeavours on the radar screen.
The workshop afforded a rare opportunity to meet with national representatives directly or indirectly concerned with marine turtle conservation.
Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan, Minister of State for Fisheries and Agriculture, represented Maldives in the workshop and brought a constructive governmental perspective to the deliberations. In side discussions, he mentioned Maldives’ interest in developing a national management plan for marine turtles, to complement its long-term moratorium on turtle hunting and egg collection. Examples from other IOSEA countries – such as Kenya, Malaysia and Viet Nam which have all developed plans in recent years – could provide useful guidance in terms of process and/or content. IOSEA might be in a position to lend support to such an initiative, upon request.
The host country of Mauritius was represented primarily by Ms. Mira Devi Hurbungs, who works in the Marine Scientific Division in the Ministry of Fisheries. Although not directly responsible for IOSEA matters, Mira plays an important role in regional conservation efforts as coordinator of the so-called ‘Mainstreaming Biodiversity - Component 5’ of the Southwest Indian Ocean Fisheries Project (SWIOFP). One element of the project provides for satellite tracking of marine turtles in each of the participating countries – including Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and the United Republic of Tanzania – several of which have already deployed transmitters. Unfortunately, the transmitters and essential adhesive arrived in Mauritius too late for deployment during this years’ nesting season. The idea is to fix them on green turtles that nest on the remote island of Saint Brandon, which also serves as a base for a long-term fishing enterprise. The potential exists to tap into local knowledge about marine turtles nesting and foraging in the vicinity, and perhaps to develop a more rigorous monitoring programme there. Mira and I agreed to explore this possibility in the months ahead.
After many years of instability and civil strife, the situation in Somalia appears to be stabilising and institutions are beginning to resume normal function. As a sign of renewed international engagement, Mr. Mohamud Hassan Ali participated in the meeting on behalf of the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Environment. With a particular interest in conserving marine turtles, Mohamud has recently submitted a proposal to the International Sea Turtle Society, which offers small grants for media awareness/communication initiatives. Mohamud’s proposal calls for a 3-month media blitz in Mogadishu to promote awareness of sea turtle conservation using TV, radio, billboards and other communication channels. For its part, the IOSEA Secretariat will continue to involve Somalia in the activities of the Western Indian Ocean – Marine Turtle Task Force, and looks forward to having Somalia as a signatory to the IOSEA MoU in the not too distant future.
As mentioned at the outset, the substantive content of CBD EBSA workshop will be examined in more depth in the IOSEA Profile of the Month to be published in early September. Please tune in again then!