Success of loggerhead turtles

2016-01-20 06:00
uShaka Sea World staff, Leanna Botha and Malini Pather with Herbie the loggerhead turtle. Photo: Supplied

uShaka Sea World staff, Leanna Botha and Malini Pather with Herbie the loggerhead turtle. Photo: Supplied

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THERE is great cause for celebration as we enter 2016. The global conservation status of loggerhead turtles has been upgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), at uShaka Marine World, has played an integral part in a number of conservation projects that support the southern African populations of these turtles, which lay their eggs on the beaches off northern KwaZulu- Natal and Mozambique.

Well-known turtle expert, Dr. George Hughes started his PhD research on South East African sea turtles in 1969, when he was at SAAMBR’s Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI). His work resulted in one of the longest running, and currently active, conservation projects on the continent - that of protecting the nesting beaches of these turtles along the east coast of southern Africa.

ORI scientists contributed to the identification and declaration of the St Lucia and Maputaland Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Not only do these MPAs offer protection to the loggerhead and leatherback turtle nests found on their beaches, but also secure core populations of many other marine species. ORI scientists have also been involved in protecting turtles offshore. In the early 2000s, Dr Sean Fennessy and colleagues noted with concern the number of sharks, rays and turtles that were being caught by the shallow-water prawn trawling fishery in the region.

Research on the ways in which to decrease this by catch was initiated, and trials with a “turtle exclusion device” (TED) were conducted in Mozambique in 2005. Due to consumer pressure from countries to which prawns are exported, legislation requiring the use of TEDs in prawn trawler nets has been passed and is starting to be enforced in Mozambique and Madagascar.

Besides ORI’s research activities, SAAMBR’s uShaka Sea World division has an international reputation for successfully rehabilitating turtles that are stranded on KwaZulu-Natal and Cape beaches. In order to increase their populations to sustainable levels, the survival of every turtle is important, and uShaka Sea World strives to rehabilitate as many turtles as possible, while endeavouring to bring the plight of the turtles to the attention of their guests through appropriate educational displays.

Even though their conservation status has improved, The IUCN has made it clear that the survival of the 10 sub-populations of loggerhead turtles will continue to be dependent on intense conservation efforts into the foreseeable future.

Everyone can play a small part in this conservation effort, by placing litter in the bin, thereby reducing the chance of turtles eating plastic, and by supporting the maintenance of South Africa’s marine protected areas, which in turn protect the homes of our incredibly diverse marine life.

For more information go to www.ushakamarineworld.co.za
- Supplied.

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