The IOSEA Western Indian Ocean – Marine Turtle Task Force held its fourth meeting in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, from 4 to 7 December 2012, under the chairmanship of Dr. Ronel Nel. Much of the workshop focused on reviewing species and other site-based information contained in IOSEA national reports in order to identify candidate sites for potential inclusion in the IOSEA Site Network.
Experts attended from ten of the 11 countries that constitute the Western Indian Ocean IOSEA sub-region: Comoros, France, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa, United Kingdom and United Republic of Tanzania. A representative from Somalia was unable to attend.
The workshop was held at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), which has been very supportive of Dr. Nel’s involvement in marine turtle research and conservation . The opening ceremony featured speeches by the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Prof. Thoko Mayekiso, and Dean of Science, Prof. Andrew Leitch, as well as presentations by Herman Oosthuizen, representing the Department of Environmental Affairs, and IOSEA Coordinator Douglas Hykle.
The first day of the workshop was reserved for country-based presentations (such as the one delivered by outgoing Vice-Chair Stéphane Ciccione, pictured here), which were all very informative and generally prepared to a high standard.
All of the presentations will be appended to the full workshop report and/or will be deposited as PDF files in the IOSEA Electronic Library.
The workshop benefitted from two thought-provoking presentations from an invited expert, Dr. Marc Girondot (Université Paris Sud, CNRS et AgroParisTech), with extensive experience in the analysis of data from turtle studies and the design of projects with sound statistical underpinning. He challenged participants to reconsider some of the methods commonly used to assess the status of turtle populations, drawing attention to possible errors associated with nest counts.
He recommended judicious sampling of track counts – with selective monitoring of nesting beaches and data enhancement – as an appropriate monitoring strategy, particularly where finite human or financial resources prevented more extensive surveys. Paramount to the design of any study was the formulation of the scientific questions to be answered. Objectives related to demography were relatively more difficult to achieve (e.g. through capture/mark/recapture (CMR) techniques) as compared to trend information based on consistent sampling of tracks.
Dr Girondot noted that quantification and analysis of threats to marine turtles depended on the development of a common metric to evaluate the impact of various threats. The prioritization of mitigation measures should ideally be based on quantitative measures, including cost-benefit analyses.
He challenged turtle conservationists to take inspiration from the field of quality management, which one day might lead to the first ever ISO 9001 certification of a marine turtle conservation programme.
IOSEA Coordinator Douglas Hykle introduced participants to the Network of Sites of Importance for Marine Turtles which the IOSEA Signatory States had formally agreed to establish at their Sixth Meeting (Bangkok, January 2012) after many years of development.
He noted that one of the objectives of the workshop was to solicit suggestions of possible candidate sites in the Western Indian Ocean from the experts present.
A presentation by Linda Harris, PhD candidate at NMMU, introduced participants to the topic of marine spatial planning as a tool to support the identification of sites for possible inclusion in the IOSEA Site Network. She described how data relating to habitats, species, migration routes, threats and oceanographic processes could be used to model various conservation scenarios and assist in decision-making about the relative conservation value of particular sites.
This technique, known as Marxan analysis, could be used in parallel with more conventional decision-making envisaged in the application of the Site Network’s weighted evaluation criteria.
The workshop divided into smaller groups to review information that participants had provided prior to the workshop relating to species occurrence, habitat use and levels of threat at specific sites. The exercise resulted in the identification of 21 sites or areas in nine countries of the Western Indian Ocean region which the workshop considered as prime candidates for inclusion in the site network. Further refinement may be needed to make some of the suggestions more specific.
The groups examined the characteristics of these sites/areas in relation to several of the criteria which will be used to assess the merits of a given site – including their cultural importance and educational value, national/regional significance and ancillary benefits.
These exercises were also very useful in identifying potential difficulties in applying some of the IOSEA Site Network Evaluation Criteria. The workshop pointed out areas in need of clarification or tweaking, and recommended drafting a new criterion to enable the assessment of foraging areas. The Secretariat will convey these valuable suggestions to the IOSEA Advisory Committee before circulating them to Signatory States for consideration.
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The workshop provided an excellent opportunity for participants and the Secretariat to catch up on other regional developments.
David Vousden gave an impressive presentation on the UNDP/GEF-funded Agulhas and Somali Current Large Marine Ecosystems (ASCLME) Project, including a description of current efforts to develop a strategic action programme for the sustainable management of the Western Indian Ocean’s large marine ecosystems.
ASCLME has established partnerships with a wide array of relevant governmental and non-governmental actors.
The Task Force member from Mauritius (who also serves as the national IOSEA Focal Point) noted that the establishment of a marine protected area encompassing St. Brandon and Agalega is under consideration. A management plan that is envisaged would include elements of capacity-building, human-resource development and community engagement.
He expressed interest in working with IOSEA to conduct a site inventory and to develop an effective monitoring and conservation programme for marine turtles. The Government has proposed specific funding in next years’ annual budget for turtle conservation which could complement any support that might be forthcoming from IOSEA through an extension of its Capacity-Building / Technical Support Programme.
During the course of the workshop, details were offered of a number of satellite tracking initiatives not already included in the IOSEA Satellite Tracking Metadatabase, including a recent project which tracked 8 green turtles from the Chagos Archipelago. It may be some time before details of the tracks are formally published, but already some of the tracks are said to indicate rapid, long-distance migration to other parts of the Indian Ocean.
The Secretariat presented a proposal to create an online database to capture and share information from international flipper tag returns, with a view to enhancing the value of this activity. The system would be triggered upon recovery of a tag originating in another country, whereupon an attempt would be made to facilitate the exchange of information from the tagging source. The workshop discussed the relative value of flipper tag returns compared to satellite tracking, incentives for the recovery of tags (e.g. from fishers), and other ways of enhancing the efficiency of tag returns (e.g. modern alternatives to return postal addresses). The workshop agreed to establish a small working group to support the Secretariat in the design of the database and integrated queries.
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The workshop reviewed the comprehensive terms of reference for the Task Force, as well as progress toward implementation of the programme of work agreed at its first meeting in Dar es Salaam in February 2008. Advances had been made in some areas, but many of the assigned tasks were in need of further, ongoing work. It was noted, for instance, that Task Force members could play an important role in furnishing information for inclusion in national reports and various IOSEA databases. It was agreed that a number of initiatives, such as an assessment of the social aspects of marine turtle conservation in the WIO region, and exploration of opportunities for applying market incentives, warranted renewed attention by the Task Force.
It was evident that arrangements for Focal Points/Task Force appointments needed to be revisited in a few countries. To that end, the Secretariat indicated that it would follow up with Comoros and Mozambique on their respective nominations to the Task Force, and with Somalia about its potential membership in IOSEA.
At the end of the workshop, the Chair and Vice-Chair indicated their intention to step down after several years of faithful service. Dr. Peter Richardson agreed to assume the chair, supported by Lindsey West as Vice-Chair (right photo, standing at left), subject to clarification of her future status on the Task Force (to be requested from the Tanzanian Focal Point).
All in all, the workshop was a success thanks in large measure to the efforts of Dr Ronel Nel and a team of dedicated students (Anje, Bernice, Jenny, Karien, Linda, and Nathan) at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, which proved to be an ideal venue for the workshop. The Secretariat wishes to to thank the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy for having provided the necessary funding to IOSEA for the organisation of the workshop.
Already consideration is being given to organising the fifth meeting of the Task Force in conjunction with the Eighth WIOMSA Scientific Symposium to be held in Maputo, Mozambique, in late October 2013.
Click to view a PHOTO GALLERY containing images from the workshop, contributed by Jenny Tucek.