All five species of sea turtle found in the Western Indian Ocean are present in Tanzanian waters: green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), loggerhead (Caretta caretta), olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea). Green and hawksbill turtles nest in Tanzania.
Sea turtles face a very uncertain future in Tanzania, mostly as a result of human activities in the coastal zone. Bycatch in commercial and artisanal fisheries poses the most significant threat while illegal and destructive fishing practices such as dynamite fishing and beach seining are having a major impact on critical foraging habitats. Slaughter for meat and poaching of eggs is commonplace and unregulated coastal development is causing the loss of important nesting beaches.
Sea Sense NGO was established in 2001 and is the only organisation in Tanzania focusing on the conservation and protection of sea turtles. A comprehensive work programme has been implemented in six coastal districts, covering approximately a third of Tanzania’s 1,000km coastline. Sea Sense has taken a ‘grass-roots’ approach to sea turtle conservation and has worked closely with coastal communities over the past ten years to reduce threats to sea turtles and engage communities in sea turtle conservation initiatives. A successful nest monitoring programme has been established together with a sea turtle stranding network. In areas of high nesting activity, a sea turtle ecotourism initiative has been developed. Sea Sense also has an ongoing education and outreach programme in coastal communities targeting village leaders, fishers, school students, teachers and District staff.
Nest Monitoring and Protection
A network of over 60 community Conservation Officers has been recruited and trained in practical sea turtle conservation techniques including species identification, nest translocation protocols, flipper tagging and post hatching excavations to calculate hatching success.
Conservation Officers conduct daily foot patrols of nesting beaches in their local vicinity to look for evidence of sea turtle nesting activity. Individual records are kept for every nest and if the nest is at risk from predators, poachers or tidal inundation, the Conservation Officer carefully translocates it to a safer area. Data from all sites are stored in a central database at the Sea Sense HQ and have helped to identify important nesting sites, determine nesting seasonality and establish trends in nesting activity along the Tanzanian coast.
Since the nest monitoring programme started in 2001, over 3,100 nests have been recorded and more than 225,000 green and hawksbill hatchlings have safely reached the sea. The peak nesting season for green turtles is April to May and for hawksbills is December to January.
Sea Turtle Stranding Network
Conservation Officers also monitor sea turtle strandings to determine areas of high risk from fisheries interactions and deliberate slaughter. Green turtles are the most commonly stranded species. In 2011, 166 sea turtle mortalities were recorded, 156 of which were green turtles. The curved carapace length (CCL) of the stranded green turtles ranged from 15cm to 115.5 cm with an average of 62.3cm (SD±23). The majority of CCL measurements were well below average carapace length for breeding green turtles (CCL 95cm) which suggests that Tanzanian waters are an important foraging ground for juvenile green turtles but pose a significant threat to their survival.
The first documented cases of fibropapilloma in Tanzania were recorded in October and November 2011.
Sea Sense is leading the first ever sea turtle satellite tracking project in Tanzania. At the end of March a team of Conservation Officers camped for many nights on nesting beaches in attempt to intercept a turtle suitable for tagging.
On March 29th the first tag was deployed on a green turtle named Molly. She had already laid three clutches so it was hoped that she would embark on a long migration. However, over the past month she has stayed close to her nesting beach and laid a further two clutches.
A second tag was deployed on a nesting green turtle named Lulu on May 5th. So far she has stayed close to the coast within 25km of her nesting beach.
The satellite tracking project in Tanzania is part of an ambitious region wide project called the South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Project (SWIOFP) www.swiofp.net Tags are also being deployed in Kenya, Mozambique, Seychelles and Mauritius to help identify important foraging grounds in the region and assess the level of sea turtle interaction with industrial fisheries during the migratory period.
Sea Turtle Ecotourism
Due to the presence of a number of hotels in the vicinity of sea turtle nesting beaches, Sea Sense has developed a sea turtle ecotourism initiative to generate a sustainable source of revenue for sea turtle conservation and local community development projects. Visitors are guided to nesting beaches by Turtle Tour Guides who have been recruited from the local community and received training in sea turtle biology, communication skills and visitor management. Visitors are able to witness sea turtle hatchlings emerging from their nest and learn about sea turtle conservation efforts in Tanzania.
Sea Sense donates half of all revenue generated through sea turtle ecotourism back to local communities via ‘Village Environment Funds’. Revenue has been used to purchase school desks and books, improve fresh water supplies and buy agricultural machinery. The sea turtle ecotourism initiative is helping local communities to see an economic benefit from sea turtle conservation.
Education and Outreach
Conservation Officers act as ‘sea turtle ambassadors’ in their communities and are working hard to reduce threats to sea turtles and change attitudes towards sea turtle conservation. Through workshops, seminars, community debates and theatre productions, Sea Sense has improved knowledge and understanding of sea turtle biology and their important role in the wider marine ecosystem. School education programmes have helped Sea Sense connect with young people and improve understanding of sea turtle biology and life history, the interconnectedness of species and habitats, the importance of waste management and the impacts of illegal and destructive fishing practices on endangered marine species such as sea turtles. School teachers have also participated in training workshops organised by Sea Sense to help expand their knowledge and develop their skills in delivering fun and interactive environmental education programmes with minimal resources. Sea Sense holds regular community events on World Environment Day and World Sea Turtle Day to raise awareness of sea turtle conservation efforts.
National Sea Turtle and Dugong Conservation Committee
Towards the end of 2010, Tanzania established a national sea turtle and dugong conservation committee. The committee is chaired by the Director of Fisheries (Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development) and Co-chaired by the Sea Sense Coordinator. A number of institutions with an interest in endangered marine species conservation sit on the committee including WWF, University of Dar es Salaam, Marine Parks and Reserves Unit, Department of Environment (Vice Presidents Office) and Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute. The overall objective of the committee is to facilitate the implementation of the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU and the CMS Dugong MoU in Tanzania by coordinating all national initiatives related to conservation and management of sea turtles and dugongs and provide technical advice to policy makers and other stakeholders.
For further information on Sea Sense activities contact Lindsey West (Sea Sense Coordinator) at email@example.com or visit the Sea Sense website www.seasense.org