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The Tanzania Turtle and Dugong Conservation Programme

Source: Catharine Muir, TTDCP and Jason Rubens, WWF Tanzania Programme Office

Photos: Courtesy of the WWF Tanzania Programme Office

Tanzania’s extensive coast supports a rich array of coral reefs, mangrove forests, estuaries, beaches and seagrass beds. These provide important foraging and breeding grounds for five species of marine turtle, with green and hawksbill turtles also known to nest in the region.

Green turtle, Mafia Island  (J.Rubens/WWF)

Turtle populations are declining in Tanzania due to threats including: habitat disturbance and destruction; incidental net capture; poaching; coastal erosion; a lack of adequate protection and enforcement; limited public awareness; and land-based development and pollution.

Although the conservation and management of marine turtles have been underway since the 1990s, information concerning population dynamics is incomplete, while knowledge of nesting populations and feeding habitats is patchy and of developmental habitats almost non-existent.

The Tanzania Turtle and Dugong Conservation Programme (TTDCP) is working to address a number of these research gaps, while promoting community-based conservation.

Background to the programme
Release of Hawksbill(J.Rubens/WWF)
Under the TTDCP programme, a team of village-elected Community Monitors undertake conservation, monitoring, tagging and public awareness work, as well as training and research.

A successful nest protection incentive scheme was initiated in 2002. Under this scheme, individuals who report a nest receive an initial reward of USD 3 once the nest is verified. If they assist the Community Monitor in protecting the nest during the incubation period, a second payment of USD 0.40 for each successful hatchling and USD 0.20 for every rotten egg is made.

Since 2001, 536 nests have been recorded on Mafia Island, along with the hatching of over 30,000 green and hawksbill turtles. The rate of human poaching has fallen from 80% to less than 1%.

From April to June 2003, the TTDCP also conducted a national survey (with 450 respondents) to determine the status, distribution, uses and threats to turtles in Tanzania. The results of this are yet to be published.

Research into incidental turtle capture
The problem of incidental capture in nets has been well documented for the Mafia area, with recent estimates suggesting annual capture rates of 1,000 to 2,000 turtles. In response to these findings, a turtle catch monitoring programme was initiated by the TTDCP in April 2004.

The information gathered so far indicates that turtles are caught on 45 – 60% of fishing trips by gillnet fishers in and around Chole Bay, on the east side of the island. These preliminary results confirm that gillnets, particularly bottom set nets, pose a significant threat to turtles. 

Turtle drowned in gillnet (D.Obura)
The TTDCP has been monitoring the coast south of Dar es Salaam, to investigate reports by fishers and tourists of turtle carcasses washing ashore. 

Between July and November 2004, 105 turtle carcasses were recorded on Buyuni beach alone. Local fishers report that these mortalities are caused by incidental capture in gillnets and commercial prawn trawlers. 

To strengthen the case for the legal, compulsory introduction of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDS) or Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs) in prawn trawlers operating in Tanzania, and the regulation or restriction of gillnets in major turtle foraging areas, autopsies should be conducted on these animals.

Commercial trawling started in Tanzania in the late 1960s, and 22 vessels currently operate along the coast in 3 zones. The prawn trawling season is open from April to November each year. Apart from several exclusion areas in the Tanga region, trawling is unrestricted. 

There are no data on the magnitude of the incidental capture of marine turtles in trawl nets on the Tanzanian coast. However, given the number of trawlers operating and the documented threat, it is likely that trawling poses a significant threat to turtles and their habitat in this country.

Expansion update
Hatchling (G.Hemley)
In May 2004, the TTDCP was scaled up to cover the entire 900km mainland coast of Tanzania, using Mafia as a successful working model.

Community-based turtle protection and monitoring has now been initiated in 6 of the 11 coastal districts, and 29 Community Monitors are assisting with the programme.

Work is underway to extend the TTDCP to Kilwa, with similar initiatives planned for the remaining coastal districts in 2005/2006.

These activities will coincide with a turtle and dugong environmental awareness campaign, which will include the production of educational posters, T-shirts and a video. 

Note: The Programme recently registered as a local NGO and is now known as Sea Sense (The Tanzania Turtle & Dugong Conservation Programme)

For further information
Contact the TTDCP Co-ordinator
Visit the Born Free website for an article on the programme
View details of a WWF report on the status of marine turtles in Tanzania
Download the October 2005 Marine Turtle Newsletter (PDF, 680KB), 
which discusses the project (see p.9).

Generous support to the TTDCP has been provided by the Born Free Foundation, WWF, Care for the Wild, USAID (WWF-TPO), US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Coveys.
UNEP © IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU Secretariat, c/o UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific,
United Nations Building, Rajdamnern Nok Avenue, Bangkok, 10200, Thailand
Tel: + (662) 288 1471 ; Fax: + (662) 288 3041 / 288 1029; E-mail: IOSEA Secretariat
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