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2012 End-of-Year Review and Look Ahead to 2013

Source: Douglas Hykle, IOSEA Coordinator, and Sirid Quade

Photos:


Carrying on an annual tradition of recent years, this month we present a substantial compilation of selected marine turtle-related activities around the Indian Ocean – South-East Asia region in 2012. We begin in Part I with a country-based tour of the four IOSEA sub-regions. In Part II we move on to review other developments in 2012 that fit into four main categories: (1) Legislation, management and enforcement measures; (2) Conservation activities; (3) Research developments; (4) Public education /Awareness-raising activities. Finally, Part III reviews IOSEA institutional progress in 2012 and takes a take a look at what we might anticipate from IOSEA and its membership in 2013.

If you are especially interested in marine turtles in the IOSEA region or if you would like to learn about activities that might be relevant to other parts of the world, this compilation offers a unique perspective on IOSEA region-wide developments in 2012.

Source material used in the analysis includes News Headlines, Message Board items, Feature Articles and longer Monthly Profiles published on the IOSEA website throughout the year. Since 2005 (when the IOSEA Secretariat began to capture news stories systematically), there has been a steady increase in turtle-related news coverage, peaking in 2011, when well over 600 stories were compiled. The number dipped to just below 500 in 2012, still reflecting significant public interest in these charismatic animals.

In keeping with trends from recent years, Australia and India continue to be the most prolific sources of turtle news, followed by Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates and Thailand. While the Secretariat’s survey of press coverage is not comprehensive and is biased toward English-language media, the survey effort has remained fairly consistent in recent years and an effort has been made to monitor French-language media, but without much return on investment so far.


PART I: A TOUR OF THE IOSEA REGION, FROM EAST TO WEST

A. SOUTH-EAST ASIA (SEA) +

Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United States, Viet Nam; plus China, Japan, Republic of Korea

In November, after years of planning and consultation, the Australian Environment Minister announced the creation of the world’s largest network of marine reserves covering more than 2.3 million square km in six marine eco-regions. Fishing industry organisations raised concern about the proclamation, claiming that it would have a huge impact on the aquaculture industry and fisher livelihoods. Environmental groups welcomed the initiative but voiced concern about the continuation of oil and gas exploration in vulnerable areas and the absence of measures to completely ban commercial fishing in the Coral Sea. 

The establishment of the new marine reserves came in a year when alarm was expressed about the effects of pollution, development, shipping and climate change on the health of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The National Academy of Sciences published a research article that revealed the loss of half of the coral since 1985, caused by a variety of factors, including hurricanes, starfish and coral bleaching. Another published report revealed a connection between coral reef collapse and a coincidental change in land use in Queensland before the 1960s. Experts warned that the world’s largest coral reef is threatened by substantial development plans of coal and gas industries. Underlining its seriousness, UNESCO announced that consideration may be given to listing the reef as a World Heritage Site in danger.

Despite these persistent worries, the value of marine turtles as an Australian tourist attraction appears to have been further enhanced, as evidenced by many articles from Queensland reporting an increased number of citizen volunteers and visitors during the nesting season. Tourism marketing and increased public awareness appears to have contributed to record-breaking visitor numbers at Mon Repos, one of the premier nesting sites frequented by the public.

On the other side of Australia, the first Western Australian Sea Turtle Symposium was held in Perth in August. Data from studies in nesting, migration and foraging areas, as well as the results of tagging, nest monitoring and satellite tracking were shared and discussed among the participants. The importance of the Kimberly coast for sea turtle populations was revealed in results from first-time monitoring of nesting sites. Tracking studies showed that the controversial Browse Basin gas plant proposed for this area is part of the nesting and foraging routes of Flatback and Loggerhead turtles. A recent study revealed that 85% of turtle movement at Barrow Island and Thevenard Island happens within an area 5 km from oil and gas projects already built or planned.

In Indonesia, a wide-ranging national symposium on marine turtle conservation was held in October in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. The well-attended workshop received reports from various sites in West Papua, Kalimantan, Java, Bali, and Sumatra. An analysis resuming forty years of turtle conservation in Indonesia revealed grounds for optimism, based on greater awareness of conservation issues as well as some positive conservation achievements (e.g. in Kalimantan). At the same time, concerns were raised about ongoing poaching and smuggling of eggs, trade in plastrons for medicinal purposes, and impacts of turtle conservation-based tourism in some areas.

In April, World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia published a set of sustainable fisheries guidelines for “Fisheries Better Management Practices” in a number of major fisheries, some of which interact with marine turtles. The guidelines were elaborated in consultation with fishermen and farmers in various regions, and are reported to include considerations related to both sustainability and operational aspects. They will be distributed by the Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

In September the local Indonesian foundation Yayasan Manikaya Kauci, together with ProFauna Bali, organised a workshop on wildlife law enforcement training for Bali police officers in Denpasar. The training covered wildlife identification, smuggling methods and wildlife law. The 32 enthusiastic participants welcomed the rare enforcement workshop, which paves the way for closer collaboration among relevant organisations.

WWF Indonesia continued its important project, begun in 2005, on reducing sea turtle bycatch in tuna longline fisheries, including training and onboard observer programmes. Through the latter, over 1000 boats and trawler crews have been trained in collecting bycatch data and in bycatch mitigation techniques; and over 200,000 circle hooks have been utilized, of which 75,000 have been distributed in Indonesia. WWF additionally established a platform known as the Coral Triangle Fisher Forum, which gives opportunities for groups to exchange information, experience and practical advice.

In the Malaysian state of Sabah, a collaborative management body to manage and conserve marine turtles in the northeast islands of the Semporna Priority Conservation Area (PCA) was formed at a workshop organised in October by Sabah Wildlife Department and WWF-Malaysia. The body, to be led by the wildlife department, will initially include local resort and tourism operators, enforcement agencies, and WWF-Malaysia. The cooperation will extend to management of feeding grounds and nesting sites, continuous monitoring, data collection and preparation of ‘turtle-friendly’ development guidelines.

In the Philippines, a number of reports documented the persistent occurrence of poaching, especially in the border region of Palawan, consistent with increased demand from China for sea turtle products. Elsewhere, a large number of illegally hunted sea turtles were confiscated while in the process of being smuggled to other countries. A ‘Task Force Pawikan’ created in May 2012 by the Office of the Regional Executive Director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will emphasise education campaigns and fighting illegal trade. However, it was reported the task will be made more difficult on account of collusion of local residents with Chinese poachers and shifting movements of illegal vendors.

In late March - early April 2012, a comprehensive training course was organized in Myanmar within the framework of the IOSEA Technical Support and Capacity-Building Programme. About 45 participants from various fields including offices of the Department of Fisheries and Forestry, NGOs, universities, the navy and police attended the workshop, which was led by IOSEA Advisory Committee expert, Dr. Colin Limpus. The training was very well received and was later complemented with the provision of some much-needed field monitoring equipment.

The IOSEA Profile of the Month for November documented the impressive work of the Royal Thai Navy’s Sea Turtle Conservation Center in public education and in the rearing and release of sea turtle hatchlings. Located at Sattahip, about 160 km from Bangkok, the centre is situated in a military zone that includes a number of protected islands where green and hawksbill numbers still nest. 

Although China, Japan and the Republic of Korea have yet to sign the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU, some important turtle work was reported in each of these countries in 2012. The Chinese Government appears to have acknowledged the seriousness of the problem of illegal international and domestic trade in marine turtles. In June, the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Public Security and General Customs launched a joint enforcement action against the illegal trade. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, supported an enforcement training workshop organised in Hainan Province in July, with more than 110 fisheries enforcement officers from 29 border checkpoints, as well as 10 officers from the Industry & Commerce department and border police in attendance.

In November, TRAFFIC published a report entitled: Market Forces – An Examination of Marine Turtle Trade in China and Japan. The 48-page report provides some useful insights into the international and domestic turtle trade involving these two countries, both of which share a long cultural association with this valuable commodity. Hainan Province in southern China was highlighted as a pivotal location for illegal trade: the point of origin of a majority of illegal fishers, the place of landing of a majority of catches, and the main source for processing and distributing turtle products to mainland China. Evidence from limited enforcement actions and other information sources indicate that vessels operating from Hainan ply the waters of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, directly targeting mostly green and hawksbill turtles

In August, the IOSEA Secretariat published an informative report on marine turtle conservation in Korea, providing insights into the role of institutions and legislation, the current state of conservation and research, public-awareness raising activities, and the impact of overseas tuna fisheries on conservation of marine turtles. The report benefitted from extensive knowledge of marine turtles in Korea waters shared by Dr. Dae-yeon Moon, who will soon be heading a new Marine Biodiversity Institute.

Japan hosts the only nesting areas for the loggerhead turtle in the North Pacific region. In December, at its annual conference held in Kagoshima, the Sea Turtle Association of Japan announced a record level of loggerhead egg production in the country for the year. The numbers were the highest since the beginning of monitoring in 1993, in line with a positive trend for loggerhead turtles seen in various parts of the globe. Elsewhere, a fruitful partnership with EPSON has led to the development of longer-lasting temperature sensors and more sensitive hatching sensors, which are instrumental in the study and conservation of turtle hatchlings.


B. NORTHERN INDIAN OCEAN (NIO)

Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka

As in recent years, the mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles along the coast of Orissa was the dominant story in India in 2012. At some sites, for example along the Gahirmatha coast, the mass nesting that often occurs in February was delayed by about a month, raising concerns about the influence of climate change, fishing activity or coastal erosion. The effects of Cyclone Thane were also considered by scientists as a possible reason for the delay. It was estimated that about 100,000 Olive Ridley turtles laid eggs during the 2012 nesting season, as compared to 250,000 in 2012. Marine biologists generally expected a lower number of eggs, though, as experience has shown a pattern of lower numbers of eggs after a good year of nesting.

In December the Orissa state government announced a plan to develop a Marine Biodiversity Interpretation Centre at the small fishing village of Boxipalli, together with a live telecast to broadcast the Olive Ridley turtle nesting event. The latter was intended to reduce disturbance by crowds watching the emergence of hatchlings. Building up the tourism sector would also provide alternative livelihoods for the fisher families affected by the fishing ban at Ganjam coast.

The Government of Pakistan announced the establishment of a National Committee for Conservation of Marine Turtles, chaired by the Inspector General of Forests, with the aim to ensure the conservation of marine turtles in accordance with the IOSEA Conservation and Management Plan, and to enhance interaction in marine turtle conservation issues within and between governmental institutions and NGOs. Members of the committee include relevant federal and provincial government agencies, as well as non-governmental organisations and institutions, such as WWF and IUCN.

In October the United States Department of the Interior, as part of its International Technical Assistance Program, collaborated in the introduction of an Integrated Marine Protected Area Management program in Maldives. The program, which is intended to ensure the protection of the marine resources, was developed in cooperation with the Maldives Marine Research Center (MRC) and the Maldives Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Also in Maldives, the country’s Pole and Line Skipjack Fishery became the first tuna fishery in the Indian Ocean to receive the coveted blue label provided by the Marine Stewardship Council, which assures the traceability of the product and its sustainable fishery management standards.
 

C. NORTHWEST INDIAN OCEAN (NWIO)

Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen

Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve in the Sultanate of Oman, the largest turtle nesting sanctuary in the Northwestern Indian Ocean, announced in March the soft-opening of an expansion of its state-of-the-art Turtle Visitor Centre. The new exhibition area, with displays developed by Omani and French designers, features an array of museographical display systems and technologies designed to educate the general public on the life cycle of sea turtles, as well as the interesting archaeological findings at the site.

The Emirates Wildlife Society in association with WWF (EWS-WWF) organised for the second time the Great Gulf Turtle Race, as part of its Marine Turtle Conservation Project. A total of 28 transmitter-tagged Hawksbill turtles were released from three countries -- Oman, Qatar and UAE -- to compete in this symbolic event. Apart from increasing public awareness of the turtle species in the region, the initiative had multiple scientific objectives, including better understanding of the post-nesting migration and biology of marine turtles, and identification of foraging grounds and linkages between nesting and feeding populations.

Reports from Kuwait documented the ongoing work of the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) in the rehabilitation and release of injured turtles, as well as ongoing concerns about the use of specialized fish traps in some areas. Hadras were widely used on along the coast of Kuwait a decade ago, but the government now strictly limits their use on the mainland in recognition of the huge damage caused to marine wildlife. Nevertheless, they continue to be used on some islands which are exempt from the regulations.

In March the release of two Hawksbill turtles on the coast of Eritrea captured national media interest. An event intended to raise public awareness about turtle conservation became the main news item on the main broadcasting national media channels, including reports in at least five native languages on TV, radio stations and newspapers. The Ministry of Fisheries also promoted several campaigns and workshops to enhance public interest for the conservation of marine resources.


D. WESTERN INDIAN OCEAN (WIO)

Comoros, France, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania

A number of satellite tracking initiatives funded by the multinational South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Project (www.swiofp.net) commenced in early 2012. Green and loggerhead turtles have been tagged and tracked in five countries so far: Mozambique (3 Loggerheads), Tanzania (4 Greens) Kenya (3 Greens), Seychelles (4 Greens), Madagascar (1 Green). Some of the tags were still active in early 2013. The results hopefully will reveal more details about the main feeding sites and can be used to implement mechanisms to avoid interactions with industrial fishery during their migration.

In Kenya and Tanzania, respectively, two dedicated NGOs continued to conduct important grass-roots conservation programmes which are well integrated with local communities. In Kenya, the Local Ocean Trust/ Watamu Turtle Watch continued its innovative bycatch release programme which has benefitted from good cooperation with fishermen. Ongoing rehabilitation, education and community outreach programmes also continued in earnest. In October the project was visited by Sir David Attenborough and a BBC film crew, who are planning to feature the project in a BBC documentary series in 2013. SeaSense is the only NGO in the Tanzania with a major focus on sea turtle conservation. It continued to implement a comprehensive work programme in six districts along the coast, including nest monitoring and ecotourism activities, as well as significant education and outreach programs in the coastal communities.

Some positive news emerged from southwest Madagascar where, in December, an association of turtle fishers for the protection of marine turtles (Fikambanana panjono miaro fano) in the Bay of Ranobe obtained official recognition by the Malagasy government. The turtle fishers have agreed upon a closed season for marine turtles from 1st of December to the 1st of March. The agreement is in the process of becoming local law or ‘Dina’, with fishers incurring penalties for any contraventions. This positive development towards a turtle fishery management strategy was facilitated by ReefDoctor, a UK-based, nonprofit marine conservation organisation conducting coral reef research and implementing marine management, education and social development work with local fishing communities.

Also in Madagascar, the NGO Blue Ventures helped to organise a marine turtle festival which attracted more than 1000 visitors along the west coast of the country. Further awareness-raising activities were extended to other regions. Although illegal in Madagascar, the capture of turtles is a cultural tradition on the island, so a main focus of the organization is to encourage local communities to preserve their cultural heritage for future generations.

The Réunion-based Indian Ocean Delegation of the French Research Institute for the Exploration of the Sea (Ifremer) reported on several projects and actions which will contribute to the development of a turtle conservation plan for French territories in the southwest Indian Ocean. These included, among others, satellite telemetry studies, the development of a database, and modelling the dispersal and spatial dynamics of juvenile Green turtle. 

Researchers from a number of institutions in mainland France, Spain and La Réunion collaborated to produce an interesting study analysing the impact of European Union purse seine fishery on marine turtles in the Indian Ocean, based on data compiled over the previous 15 years. The report was submitted to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s Working Party on Ecosystems and Bycatch in September 2012, and a condensed version published on the IOSEA website. The report confirmed that the level of observed bycatch mortality in purse seine operations in the Indian Ocean is relatively low, especially in comparison to other tuna-based fisheries, but the study did not take into account ghost fishing by unobserved Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs). The report recommended that FAD designs be modified to minimize the number of marine turtles (and other species) incidentally caught in these devices.

In October, Centro Terra Viva in cooperation with several other conservation organisations, published an annual report on Monitoring, Tagging And Conservation of Marine Turtles in Mozambique for the 2011/ 2012 season. A total of 1122 nests were recorded by various monitoring stations in the country, which is important for loggerhead, leatherback and green turtles.

In early December, the forth meeting of the IOSEA Western Indian Ocean – Marine Turtle Task Force meeting took place in the Port Elizabeth, South Africa, focusing on the review of species and site-based information for potential candidate sites in the IOSEA Site Network. Apart from Somalia, experts from all countries of the Western Indian Ocean sub-region attended the workshop. Coincidentally, South Africa celebrated 50 years of turtle conservation at a gala event in Durban, which served also to honour the work of life-long turtle conservationist and retired CEO of Natal Parks Board and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Dr. George Hughes. Dr Hughes recently published a fascinating memoir in which he describes his four decades of conservation and research.

 

PART II: OTHER DEVELOPMENTS IN 2012, ORGANISED BY THEME


1. LEGISLATION, MANAGEMENT, ENFORCEMENT MEASURES

South-East Asia +

A new national park was declared in Australia’s Northern Territory, with the aim of protecting seagrass beds on the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, as well as other turtle, dolphin and dugong habitats. Together, the Limmen National Park and Limmen Bight Marine Park cover an area of 10,000 square km. Conservation organisations welcomed the announcement but criticised that the park’s area is 20 % smaller than called for in the original proposal, following concessions given to mining companies.

The Fisheries Minister of Australia’s state of Queensland introduced legislation into parliament in June to outlaw infliction of unreasonable pain during hunting. This came after a television station showed a report about turtles being butchered by traditional owners, who under the Native Title Act, are allowed to hunt turtles and dugongs.

In September, the federal Environment Minister Tony Burke announced tough conditions for the operation in Australian waters of the controversial super-trawler Margiris, including special restrictions on activities that could have an impact on endangered species.

In July, Kei Kecil, a group of Indonesian islands considered to be one of the most important feeding sites for Leatherback Turtles in the Pacific Ocean, was designated as a marine protected area. It is hoped that the designation, which was supported by a programme of USAID aimed at conserving marine resources, will help to address threats posed by forest clearance near nesting beaches, fishing activities and hunting of turtles for meat.

On Komodo Island, known for its dragons and large coral reefs, fishermen operating illegally were reported to have destroyed large areas of coral reefs using explosives to catch their prey. Conservationists and dive operators accused the Indonesian government of lax enforcement and ineffective implementation of the zoning and resource use regulations. Officials denied these claims, noting that within the last two years about 60 illegal fishermen have been arrested by rangers. The problems may be attributed to the collapse of a nonprofit joint venture company partially funded by The Nature Conservancy and the World Bank, which failed to achieve the plan of self-sustainable financing of the park by offering facilities for tourists.

Elsewhere, several reports from Indonesia indicate that smuggling of live sea turtles into Bali persists, as evidenced by multiple enforcement actions that intercepted more than 200 animals throughout the year. In August, authorities thwarted an attempt to smuggle about 4000 turtle eggs from Pontianak, West Kalimantan, which is reputed to be a major hub for smuggling turtle eggs to Sarawak.

In Malaysia, where legislation regarding sale of turtle eggs and extent of enforcement differs from one state to another, various reports published in 2012 suggest that trade in turtle eggs continues unabated and is not actively prohibited in some states. WWF-Malaysia noted an apparent inconsistency in government policy which has led to the gazetting of some protected areas while allowing the sale of eggs from endangered or critically endangered turtle species.

In September a group of international scientists and conservationists conducted an expedition and survey at Tun Mustapha Park and recommended that the government of Sabah open a planned marine park in 2016. Although the Fisheries Department stopped issuing licenses for rawa sorong nets, known to be a destructive fishing gear, NGOs reported that the use of these nets is still widespread in Malaysian waters.

NGOs also urged the government to ban trawling fleets or at least minimize their numbers to reduce the negative impact on marine life. The Pantai Kerachut Turtle Conservation Sanctuary tried to restore sea turtle natural habitat by planting shrubs along the coast after research revealed that eggs hatched in their natural surroundings are healthier than those hatched in temperature-controlled incubators.

In September, volunteers participated in a reef cleaning operation along the coast of Pulau Talang-Talang Besar. Large areas of seaweed were discovered, which may be an indicator of the success of a Sarawak Forestry Corporation initiative to prevent trawlers from encroaching on the area. Despite undertakings by NGOs urging the government to reconsider, the state government recently approved two steel and gas projects in Tanjung Hantu forest reserve, in Seri Manjung, an area preferred by sea turtles to lay their eggs.

NGOs and scientists from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu's Institute of Oceanography and Environment promoted cooperation between turtle conservationists and fishermen to prevent accidental captured turtles from drowning. Workshops held in the last two years through a cooperative project of the Fisheries Department, WWF-Malaysia and WWF-Indonesia showed that turtles could be rescued by raising awareness among fishermen.

In the Philippines, the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) called for the protection of sea turtle nesting sites in the region of Odiongan, in response to the alarming rate of population decline. Later in the year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) declared the coast of Agusan del Norte as a safe area for sea turtles, particularly Hawksbill turtles reported to nest there.

In September, Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Sulu Sea southeast of Palawan, was recognized by an international policy research body as a model for coral reef conservation. The World Future Council cited the excellent condition of the reef compared with neighboring sites and lauded the carefully planned management that benefited local communities.

Elsewhere in the Philippines, authorities at Manila airport found shells from about 40 Green and Hawksbill turtles, suspected to be destined for manufacture as decoration and accessories. The boxes were addressed to a person living in Cebu City, from where reports revealed the ongoing sale of turtle meat in eateries across town. In May the Environment Department announced the formation of a special task force to investigate the illegal activities in the area.

In July, IUCN Vietnam published a report about the ongoing poaching and trade of marine turtles. Although the species have been legally protected since 2002, lucrative trade continues because of high demand from Chinese, Taiwanese and locals. Low risk of detection has been a powerful incentive for poachers and traders to continue illegal activities in Vietnam. As a case in point, in July, police in the southern province of Dong Nai raided a residential home in Trang Bom District and caught a group of people in the process of butchering 43 sea turtles.


Northern Indian Ocean

At the Rio+20 Summit in June, President Mohamed Waheed announced the Maldives would become ‘the first country to become a marine reserve’. Without revealing details about the proposed reserve’s size, he announced it would be the largest marine reserve worldwide, when plans for its establishment would be finalised in about 5 years. 

In June, the Indian state government of Orissa announced it would extend social support to fisher families hit hard by fishing prohibitions enacted by the state government during nesting season. The assistant director of marine fisheries announced that so far 5,400 families directly or indirectly affected by turtle conservation measures had been enumerated for the Public Distribution System benefits.

Elsewhere in Orissa, forest officials in Jagatsinghpur district announced they had recruited local people and former poachers to protect Olive Ridley turtles from poachers during the nesting and hatching season, by paying them monthly remuneration to guard nesting beaches and relocate eggs to hatcheries.


Northwest Indian Ocean

Residents of the United Arab Emirates were urged by the Ministry of Environment and Water in November to support the UAE Federal Law No.23/ 1999 on the exploitation, protection and development of living marine resources to prevent hunting sea turtles of all types, sizes and ages, in any area of the fishing waters or the beach. In addition to potential confiscation of boats and equipment, strict penalties were announced including prison terms of not less than six months and/or fines of 50,000 up to 100,000 Dh for anyone hunting these animals, collecting eggs or disturbing their nesting and breeding areas. Fines were also announced for fishermen who fail to attempt to release accidentally caught sea turtles back to the sea.


Western Indian Ocean

In March, alarmed about dying coral reefs which are the mainstay of its tourism industry, the Mauritian Government announced a $3.4 million grant towards marine conservation. With 24,500 hectares of reefs embracing 161 species, local NGOs and scientists have warned that coral around Mauritius has declined up to 70 per cent in many areas and is dying rapidly.

In January, it was reported that Kenya’s marine turtles are still highly threatened by fishing, poaching and illegal trade despite being protected under the Kenya’s Fisheries Act and Wildlife Act. Turtle meat is eaten openly at coastal sites where organised turtle protection groups are not active. Conservationists also raised concern about the construction of a second Lamu port, linking Kenya to Sudan and Ethiopia.

In October, Zanzibar’s Minister for Livestock and Fisheries called for measures to protect the marine environment by fighting illegal fishing practices that destroy fish coral reef breeding sites. He said governments will continue to mobilise people and create awareness about best practices for exploration of sea resources and call on them to avoid using illegal fishing equipment.

Elsewhere in Tanzania, environmental experts and tourism industry investors raised concern about the destruction of coral reefs by explosives used for fishing and called for an enhancement of the fight against illegal fishing activities.


No specific country

When the Western and the Central Pacific Fisheries Commission met in Guam in March, several international conservation organizations called on Pacific governments to ban certain practices of the commercial fishery industry in order to conserve turtles and other endangered marine species.

At the UN conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Hyderabad, India, in October, a report revealed that an area of 2.3 % (8.3 million sq km) of the global ocean is currently under protection. The improvement gives hope that the CBD target of 10 % protected area may be realised by 2020, thanks to several recent large designations. However, it was pointed out that most of them are far from people who would be likely to over-exploit them, and that declaring an area protected does not necessarily shield it from distant influences, such as over-nutrification. Governments were advised to be smarter to ensure that they are protecting the very most important areas, especially near heavily-populated coastlines where marine resources were most at risk.

In November the Malaysian Science, Technology and Innovation Minister announced that Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Timor-Leste and Solomon Islands plan to build a common database providing information on maritime movements to improve the tracking of fishery vessels and to curb overfishing. The plan will be implemented under the Coral Triangle Initiative - Coral Reefs Fisheries and Food Security.


2. CONSERVATION AND RELATED ACTIVITIES

2.1 Marine turtle conservation initiatives

In Malaysia, the Turtle and Marine Ecosystem Centre (TUMEC) announced that about two million newly-hatched turtles had been released to the wild since 2001; and the centre was reported to be working closely with the Fisheries Department and 30 private companies. (Malaysia: Two million turtles released into the sea since 2001)

In January, the Philippines office of Conservation International announced that 1.44 million Green turtle eggs had been laid within Tawi-Tawi sanctuary, breaking a 28-year old record in the protected area. The number was derived from nest monitoring in 2011, during which 14,220 nests were monitored, each containing an average of about 100 eggs. (Endangered sea turtles lay 1.44M eggs in Tawi-Tawi (Philippines))

There was also some good news from Thailand too where, for the first time in 21 years, a Hawkbill turtle nested on the popular tourist island of Koh Samui. After the traces of a turtle were discovered by the staff of a hotel, 87 eggs were collected and the resulting hatchlings were released into the sea in September. (108 Hawksbill turtles released on Koh Samui, Thailand (Message Board 2012, No. 14))

However, several news reports revealed an increasing occurrence of injured marine turtles washing ashore in Phuket. The animals were treated at the Phuket Marine Biological Center, where the head of the endangered species is promoting a campaign to stop trash and used oil from being dumped into the sea. (Thailand: Phuket ocean trash inflicting mayhem on turtles/ Six injured sea turtles beach in Phuket, Phang Nga)

Turning to India, the numbers of protected nests and hatchlings have continued to increase since the establishment of the turtle conservation organisation known as Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra, operating in Maharashtra state. The Marine Turtle Conservation Project announced that 82 nests had been protected and 3482 hatchlings released to the ocean in 2012. Since its establishment in 2002, 681 nests have been protected and over 30,465 hatchlings released. (Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra Marine Turtle Conservation Report 2010-2011 (Message Board 2012, No. 46))

Meanwhile, the Tree Foundation’s Sea Turtle Protection Force (STPF) announced it had released more than 22,000 Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings in 2012, bringing the total number released since 2002 with the support of fishermen volunteers to about 125,000. As reported from turtle nesting areas in Orissa, student volunteers observed a lower number of nests and hatchlings along the coast of Chennai in 2012 as compared to the year before. (India: 22,000 Olive Ridleys released into sea/ India: SSTCN’s end of turtle season report – 2012 (Message Board 2012, No. 22)). In the 2012 season, 120 nests were relocated and over 10,000 Olive ridley hatchlings were released into the sea along a 15 km stretch of the Chennai coast. (Turtle season ends with release of 10,000 hatchlings)

In contrast, in February Indian forest officers warned that the situation for nesting on the coast of Andhra Pradesh was becoming worse for Olive Ridley turtles, as the human presence and activities, stray dogs and industrialization on the coast are increasing.

Finally, in the Western Indian Ocean, Kenya’s Lamu Marine Conservation Trust (LAMCOT) reported on its work started in 1992, which includes educational outreach and a tag-and-release programme that delivers important information about turtle migration and growth rates. The project also provides financial incentives to fishermen for returning accidently captured sea turtles. (Kenya sea turtle project teaches conservation)


2.2 Studies of bycatch and overfishing

In March, the Wildlife Conservation Society and ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, among others, published the results of a survey on the problem of overfishing. It revealed that co-management, in the form of cooperation among local governments, communities and conservation groups, provides the best results for starting to deal with the huge problem of overfishing. The study was conducted on 40 coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, including coral reefs in Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Data came from interviews with local communities and fish counts. The main conclusion is that co-management provides for more sustainable fisheries and improves the livelihood of the inhabitants of the region.
(One solution to global overfishing found (Australia))

In June, the Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction of the New England Aquarium created a Bycatch Reduction Techniques Database (www.bycatch.org), where summaries and references to over 150 bycatch reduction studies can be consulted using different options (e.g. by species or by a particular type of fishing gear). Further references to extend the database were welcomed. (Bycatch Reduction Techniques Database (USA, Message Board 2012, No. 38))

Also in June, IUCN announced the availability of an informative Performance Assessment of Bycatch and Discards Governance by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations which can be downloaded from the IUCN website. (Performance Assessment of Bycatch and Discards Governance by RFMOs)


2.3 Coral Reefs/ Marine Environment News

In March the head of China's oceanic authority deemed the outlook for the Chinese marine environment as “not optimistic”, and called for a new approach towards ocean conservation. The director of the State Oceanic Administration said the main tasks to be tackled are the upgrading of industries, control of pollutants, and improvement of the evaluation of carrying capacity and monitoring. (China: Maritime environment “not optimistic”)

The already damaged 437 km of shoreline of Bali, Indonesia, are continually threatened by erosion. Using data from 2010, regional authorities announced damage to 100 km of coastline caused by sea erosion. The most affected areas are Denpasar, Gianyar, Karangasem and Jembrana. (Vast coastal erosion threatens Bali shorelines)

In July, a US expert in oil spill recovery recommended that Indonesia establish a programme to deal with the effects of the 2009 Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea, comparing the situation to the damage of the Gulf of Mexico spill. (Timor Sea Oil Spill ‘just as devastating as Gulf of Mexico’)

The International Coral Reef Symposium, held in Cairns in July, was attended by over 2,500 international scientists who discussed the state-of-the-art in coral reef conservation and information fundamental to national and international policy makers. Scientists warned that 85% of reefs in the ‘Coral Triangle’ of Asia -- covering Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and East Timor -- are highly threatened by anthropogenic factors, such as overfishing, pollution, and coastal development. (85% of ‘Coral Triangle’ reefs at risk (Australia)). Participants called for immediate global action because of the rapid decline of coral reefs worldwide. (Top marine scientists warn reefs in rapid decline)

In July, the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) urged an increase in stakeholder’s participation in the management of projects of Marine Protected Areas (MPA), stating that only 5 % of the national coral reefs are in excellent condition, while 40 % are in a poor condition. (Philippines’ excellent coral reefs ‘less than 5%’)

The Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) announced the results of a recent study in Thailand’s Phuket Province, which indicated that enormous land development has led to large areas of coral reefs being destroyed by covering sediments. These were reported to be the product of a many resorts being built in the area, especially within the last five years. The PMBC director urged greater efforts to preserve Thailand’s marine environment by enhancing cooperation between all parties involved in coral reef protection. Announcing that 50 % of the country’s coral reefs have already been damaged, he supported the closure of national parks for a certain number of months in order to allow the environment to recover from the diving tourism industry, as well as the establishment of artificial reefs. (Coastal development destroying reefs off Phuket/ Thailand’s coral reefs 50% gone: Phuket marine biologist)

On a more positive note, Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister announced in November that 50 % of the damaged coral reefs in that country have been recovered. Progress was attributed to the Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program (Coremap) supported by the World Bank, which was initiated five years ago. (Nearly 50% of Indonesia’s damaged coral reefs rehabilitated)

And a recent survey in Maldives was reported to have revealed a recovery in coral reefs around parts of the country, with some areas showing even more live coral cover than before the massive loss of about 95 % of corals caused by El Nino bleaching in 1998. (Coral reefs begin to recover in the Maldives)


3. RESEARCH DEVELOPMENTS

As always, a number of news reports drew attention to important scientific discoveries and findings of relevance to policy makers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, several of them concerned current research in the field of climate change and its implications for marine turtles. An Australian study published in February revealed that the Green turtle population in the Northern Great Barrier Reef shows a shift towards significantly less male hatchlings in a modelling exercise conducted for the year 2030, while results for 2070 predict temperatures near or above the thermal threshold, which could result in a general decreased number of hatchlings. (How will sea turtles cope with climate change? (Australia, Message Board 2012, No. 61))

Researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who observed egg and hatchling survival of Leatherback turtles in scenarios over the next 100 years, found a clear link between regional climate patterns and the nesting success of leatherback turtles. (Turtle hatchlings face climate challenge (USA))

A study published in Japan showed that the influence of La Nina on the island of Yakushima could be the cause of unusually early spawning of turtle hatchlings. (La Nina blamed for early sea turtle spawning season (Japan))

In September, Nature Climate Change published a research article revealing huge changes in Pacific ecosystems by the year 2100. Scientists used computer modelling to predict possible future scenarios. The results revealed a major threat to turtles, sharks and marine mammals as a consequence of the risk of shifts in habitats caused by warming of the Pacific Ocean. Some scenarios estimated losses of essential habitat to range as high as 35 percent. (Scientists predict major shifts in Pacific ecosystems by 2100 (USA))

A study conducted by the University of Exeter provided concrete evidence that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are the preferred habitats of marine turtles. The larger and longer established the protected areas are, the more turtles occur. The study observed the satellite-tracked movements of 128 turtles from 28 nesting sites. (Green turtles safer in protected seas (UK)).

A peer-reviewed study released in March cast further doubts about the scientific impact assessment made by the Western Australian Government for the proposed James Price Point gas hub. The study revealed nesting sites of sea turtles within the coastal strip of 6 km directly adjacent to the proposed natural gas refinery. (Sea turtle nests in Kimberley at proposed gas refinery site (Australia))

Staying in Australia, researchers at James Cook University studying the effect of artificial light on hatching turtles warned that many areas of Australia have considerable light pollution which can cause turtles to wander inland and swim in the wrong direction from the shore. (Australia: Experts shed light on turtle threat)

Finally, researchers from the University of Central Florida published studies using new isotope methods which could provide better information on migration routes and foraging grounds and also enhance the protection of nesting grounds, by using the chemical signature of the turtles’ diet combined with satellite tracking. (New tracking method to help save loggerhead turtles (USA))


4. PUBLIC EDUCATION / AWARENESS-RAISING ACTIVITIES

4.1 Turtle releases and rescues

In Thailand, the 10th Anniversary of Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation was celebrated in May with support from the Phuket Marine Biological Center and the Royal Thai Navy. On the occasion, 70 Green turtles were released into the Andaman Sea. (Thailand: Third Mai Khao turtle release)

In August the Royal Thai Navy Sea Turtle Conservation Centre and Phuket Marine Biological Center released 1000 Green and Hawksbill turtles, ranging in age from three months to 15 years old. Some of the turtles were micro-chipped to help in their later identification. (Thai NAVY releases 1,000 sea turtles).
 

Marine turtles were also reported to have been released into the sea at several resorts across Southeast Asia. (Thailand: Laguna’s sea turtle release returns/ Philippines: Subic Resort releases ‘PNoy’ pawikans/ ‘P-Noy Pawikans’ return to sea in Subic Freeport (Philippines/ Indonesia: Hotel supports sea turtle conservation/ Malaysia: Port Dickson hotel checks in turtle eggs)

Several releases of hatchlings and rescued turtles rehabilitated after injury took place in Dubai. In June, two Loggerhead, two Hawksbill and two Green turtles were released in front of 1500 spectators. The turtles were fitted with satellite transmitters newly equipped with a temperature measuring capability. (UAE: Released turtles signal good health/ Endangered sea turtles rescued from Jumeirah beach in Dubai/ Hundreds of UAE residents watch as turtles released into sea/ Jumeirah invites public to watch annual summer turtle release)


4.2 Festivals, projects, events and workshops

Several NGOs and local communities celebrated Coral Triangle Day across Southeast Asia on 9 June. Initiated by WWF and other conservation organisations, a range of events took place across Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor Leste. ((WWF and partners celebrate Coral Triangle Day on June 9 (Message Board 2012, No. 47))

WWF Malaysia celebrated World Sea Turtle Day on 16 June with a focus on the three states: Terengganu, Malacca and Sabah. Activities promoted awareness of sea turtle conservation, including an event organized in cooperation with a team from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) that attracted over 1,000 visitors. In contrast to Sabah and Sarawak, the state of Terengganu has not yet banned the sale of all turtle eggs, only those of Leatherback turtles. WWF Malaysia hoped the event would support the call already made to the state government to impose a ban on sale of all turtle eggs. (Sea Turtle Day celebrations to be held across three states (Malaysia)/ Malaysia: Total fun on World Sea Turtle Day/ Malaysia: Many come together to save turtles/ Malaysia: Protecting sea turtles)

The Fisheries Department of Perak, second largest state in Peninsular Malaysia, appealed for donations from companies and NGOs to support the Segari Turtle Conservation and Information Centre, as the allocations from federal and state governments were not sufficient to improve facilities for visitors. (Perak Fisheries Dept. seeks donors for turtle conservation (Malaysia))

Ten students from the Republic of Korea came to Brunei for an official visit to the Turtle Management and Conservation Centre in Serasa, as part of a joint youth program between the two countries. (Brunei: Korean students visit turtle conservation centre)

In Thailand, the Aleenta Phuket-Phang Nga Resort and Spa hosted a gala charity event for the Pure Blue Foundation, on 1 December. The foundation has raised THB 1 million for turtle release programmes as well as children’s education on turtle conservation since 2010. (Phuket’s Aleenta announces a Pure Blue gala fundraiser)

Rounding out news from the SEA+ region, the first-ever professional underwater photos of Flatback turtles were realised in October by renowned photographer Doug Perrine. He achieved this 11-year dream when he captured underwater photos of a female Flatback turtle on the Northern coast of Western Australia. (Australia: First underwater flatbacks on film)

Heading westward, in India more than 2000 visitors visited the annual Turtle Festival in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, in February, which for the first time was officially joined by the forest department. (A turtle fest in golden sands of Maharashtra)

The Environment Society of Oman celebrated the Third Masirah Turtle Festival Week in May. Several activities were organized for the over 300 participating children from three different schools, who were joined by officials from the Ministry of Education and marine students from Sultan Qaboos University. Other events included a beach clean-up in association with the Omani Women Association and an organized football league, with the teams named after marine turtle species. (Oman: Third Annual Masirah Festival A Success (Message Board 2012, No. 44))

In the Western Indian Ocean region, the NGO Blue Ventures and Vezo fishing communities celebrated World Sea Turtle Day in Madagascar by organizing several events at three locally-managed marine areas on the west coast to raise public awareness. Blue Venture also promoted a marine turtle festival, which travelled over 600 km along the west coast of Madagascar to promote awareness in communities by appealing to their cultural identity and its preservation for future generations. (Blue Ventures NEWS: World Sea Turtle Day & Scholarship opportunity (Message Board 2012, No. 39))


4.3 Beach and reef clean-up activities

Beach and reef clean-up activities continued in many parts of the IOSEA region, including several of note in Southeast Asia:

In Malaysia, a programme called Restore Our Awesome Reefs (ROAR), started by several NGOs in cooperation with Berjaya Cares Foundation, Berjaya Hotels and Resorts, and Malaysian Nature Society launched a 15-month coral reef rehabilitation program to coincide with the annual World Ocean Day on 8 June. The programme’s main aim is the restoration and rehabilitation of the reefs, as well as public education. (Malaysia: Tioman reef clean-up plan)

In Thailand, a beach clean-up joined by over 650 of PADI-divers was held at Koh Racha Yai and Koh Racha Noi, Phuket, with numbers exceeding the organisers’ expectations. It was part of the Dive Against Debris event, which was supported by local businesses, the Royal Thai Navy, marine police, fishermen, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Phuket Marine Biological Centre, the army and the Thai Aor-Ba-Jor.(PADI divers prepare for Phuket’s biggest coral reef cleanup.)


4.4 Community / Private sector involvement in turtle conservation

In February, Australian Environment Minister Bill Marmion visited a turtle nesting site along Cemetery Beach, which is monitored by volunteers of the Hedland Environmental Association. The program, linked to a large monitoring network, trains volunteers to protect the nests of Flatback turtles and conducts public education activities. (Australia: Environment Minister talks turtles)

In India, international sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik took part in an awareness-raising campaign for the protection of the Olive ridley turtles that nest along the coast of Orissa. He created sea turtle sculptures in the sand of Golden Beach in Puri with the message “Save Turtles” and calling on the public to respect the habitats of marine turtles. (Awareness campaign for safeguard of Olive Ridley sea turtles)

In September, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) lauded three fishermen who released back to sea an accidentally caught Green turtle. It sought to discourage fishermen from undertaking illegal activities, such as poaching, and to encourage other fishermen to follow their example when accidentally catching endangered marine animals. (Coast guard lauds 3 fishers who freed rare marine turtle (Philippines))

In Phuket, Thailand, a pilot community-based network was set-up on the islands of Koh Ra and Koh Pratong in Phang Nga. Initiated by the Phuket Marine Biological Center in September, the aim is to build up a conservation network by cooperating with the villagers in turtle protection. The islands were chosen because of their abundance of seagrass and providing suitable nesting habitat for Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Green turtles. (Turtle preservation project launched in Phuket)

In September, the Latin Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, India, announced the launch of an awareness campaign to involve local fishermen, mainly by creating awareness of the importance of conserving beaches, and addressing the problem of sand mining which destroys Olive Ridley turtle nesting sites. (India: Church’s pitch to protect Olive Ridleys)


Continue to PART III: IOSEA INSTITUTIONAL PROGRESS IN 2012

   
 
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