What do we know about marine turtle populations in Lindi Region?

Tanzania supports small but critical populations of nesting green and hawksbill turtles. In addition, loggerhead, olive ridley and leatherback turtles forage along the Tanzanian coast and pass through on migrations to nesting grounds elsewhere in the region. The central Tanzania coast is a particularly significant area for marine turtles due to the abundance of coral reef and seagrass habitats which provide important foraging grounds. In September 2014, the central Tanzania coast became the first site in the Indian Ocean South-East Asia (IOSEA) region to be formally recognised as a ‘Regional Site of Importance to Marine Turtles’ which is an initiative of the Signatory States of the UNEP-CMS Indian Ocean South East Asia Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding.

Lindi Region is known to support several green turtle nesting beaches and oral accounts from village elders suggest that historically, green turtles nested in large numbers. However, over the past few decades, marine turtle populations have been under increasing pressure in Tanzania as a result of bycatch in fishing nets, habitat degradation and poaching for eggs and meat. In the absence of robust scientific data, the current status of marine turtle populations in Lindi Region is unclear as is the level and extent of threats to their survival.

With support from BG Group, Sea Sense is undertaking a comprehensive assessment of the status of marine turtle populations in Lindi Region which includes physical surveys of nesting beaches and foraging grounds and formal meetings and Focus Group Discussions with fishers, village leaders and district authorities to determine attitudes and perceptions towards marine turtle conservation. Data gathered through these assessments will be used to design a series of targeted conservation and education initiatives aimed at promoting the recovery of marine turtle populations in Lindi Region and engaging local communities in marine stewardship programmes.

Beach surveys commenced in May during the 2015 peak nesting season.  10 sites were prioritized (Shuka, Mmumbu, Sudi, Mvuleni, Kijiweni, Ruvu, Kikwetu, Likong’o, Lihimalyao and Kisongo).  Each of the beaches was profiled to determine suitability for turtle nesting. Marine turtles are surprisingly selective about the beaches they choose to nest on with beach access, angle of approach, beach slope and sand grain size being important considerations for female turtles. Six of the beaches had evidence of recent nesting activity and a further three beaches had high potential for nesting, thereby confirming that beaches in Lindi Region are indeed desirable to nesting turtles.

Village council meetings were held in each village to gather supporting information. Turtle slaughter and consumption was widespread amongst all 10 villages. Fishers mostly targeted nesting females and were very aware of nesting cycles, meaning that if a turtle nested unobserved, the likelihood of being captured and slaughtered on her next nesting event was very high. A targeted marine turtle fishery was observed at several of the villages whereby fishers used specially designed nets known as ‘likembe’ to catch turtles.

The level of understanding of the protected status of marine turtles was good. Village leaders and fishers knew of the presence of national legislation protecting marine turtles. However, due to the remoteness of many of the villages in relation to Lindi Municipal where all District Fisheries Officers are located, fishers had little fear of apprehension and were very open and honest about the trade in turtle meat. The impact of the trade in marine turtle meat was clear, with all of the village councils reporting a decline in nesting activity over the past few decades.

The surveys were repeated throughout 2015 and will continue in 2016 to build a more accurate picture of nesting density and compare nesting seasonality with other nesting sites in Tanzania. Initial data suggests that Lindi Region could support a nationally significant nesting population that is in urgent need of conservation interventions.

Sunday, 15.05.2016 22:55 22:55 Age: 3 Years

Expected Green Turtle Hatching Dates in January 2019

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