An Inventory of the Geographical Distribution and Conservation Status ofMarine Turtles and Sharks in the Wider Caribbean andRelationship to Fisheries
Findings on Marine Turtles
· Migration routes to and from nesting sites (typically index beaches) are variously known in the Caribbean, increasingly from satellite telemetry and studies of genetics. Without doubt the WWF priority areas are connected to each other, as well as to others in the Caribbean and to the high seas, especially the Sargasso Sea, through their shared responsibility for marine turtles during their different life stages.
· Nesting habitat for marine turtles in the Caribbean are reasonably well know, although data is continually accruing from existing and new projects that monitor nesting activity. The imperative is to capture and share data in a meaningful way so as to enable comparison between sites and to permit the analysis of population trends.
· There is a growing focus on in-water monitoring which helps to shed light on foraging sites. A number of parallel efforts by coral reef researchers to monitor ecosystems also provide valuable information on coral reef health and resilience to climate change in the region. While these studies are useful in highlighting overall declines in the coral reef ecosystems upon which marine turtles depend, there was found to be lack of similar efforts to monitor seagrass habitat for marine turtles, or water quality monitoring in what is a highly populated region with increasing coastal development that generally lacks urban environmental infrastructure.
· MPAs in the Caribbean have not specifically been designed as a network to protect endangered marine turtles in their different life stages and habitats. There is better coverage of nesting beaches via terrestrial protected areas than of foraging sites in marine protected areas (MPAs), which also reflects the reality of competing interests from fisheries, oil exploration and infrastructure development. Effective MPAs require adequate management capacity, and enhanced enforcement capacity is a top priority need among Caribbean MPAs.
· Threats to marine turtles are extensive. The most common threats to nesting turtles shared by the priority areas are artificial lighting, beach erosion/accretion and pollution The most common threats to foraging/migrating turtles are fisheries entanglement, bycatch and pollution. Throughout the Caribbean it is evident that financial and human resources are a major challenge for governments, NGOs and communities in taking forward marine turtle conservation efforts.
Findings on Sharks
· Information relevant to sharks in the Caribbean was found to be spread throughout a wide range and a large volume of literature. The disparate sources of shark information include reports from national scientific and fisheries divisions, from regional fisheries management organizations, from multilateral agencies, and from regional and international academic institutions. Only one publication was found to bring together regional shark information.
· Consultation with key shark experts indicated that much is still unknown about sharks, even for the more common shallow water species. Still less is known about pelagic sharks and their movements into and through the eco-regions of the Caribbean.
· Information on sharks was found to be unevenly distributed amongst the priority areas covered in this inventory. More extensive information on sharks was found to exist for non-priority areas of the Caribbean, such as Venezuela and the US, than for the priority areas. The inventory serves to highlight geographical gaps in knowledge about sharks in the Caribbean, for example in relation to Cuban sharks, and these geographical could guide further investigation.
· Insufficient data exists to determine which shark species are of possible concern in the Caribbean. Also complicating the Indices of relative abundance were found to sometimes provide conflicting information on population trends.
· Although sharks are highly migratory, information on shark movements in the Caribbean and the Sargasso Sea comes from only a handful of sources.
· Some landings data exists for shark fisheries and some data exists on the incidental capture of sharks in other fisheries. However, making meaningful comparisons between datasets is a complex and time-consuming task which could be undertaken with a specialist partner such as a regional fisheries management organization or a researcher.
· There is scope to seek further input on sharks from a number of knowledgeable experts who were willing to contribute but were unavailable for consultation in the timeframe of this inventory.
· Some of the information that was compiled in the course of the inventory was found to be old and/or limited in its coverage. Expert consultation raised a number of doubts about key references such as IUCN classification of sharks. There is a fundamental need to validate the presence of sharks in the region and assess their population status. Recommended follow-up to this inventory could be key local informant interviews with fishers and relevant local experts in each of the priority areas about shark sightings, catch and bycatch.
· A key step towards effective management of Caribbean Sharks would be a meeting of regional shark scientists and experts to share data, assess its application to conservation and sustainable use, and to develop a strategy for addressing significant gaps in knowledge. Such a meeting focused on Caribbean sharks has not yet been achieved.
Recommendations on GIS
· Continue GIS data scoping and the collection of existing information from organisations working on similar initiatives. Invest in understanding existing governance frameworks and building partnerships for future collaboration with other regional fisheries management organisations, BINGOs (TNC and ICUN), Universities (UWI, CERMES), local and regional NGOs (see Mahon et al. 2013 for full Caribbean governance review), with a view to developing a data sharing agreement with key partners. This would enable continued sharing of GIS data collected and produced with others practitioners working the region.
· Construct a Geodatabase that addresses WWF’s strategic priorities in the Caribbean region and which fills gaps in existing GIS information for these priorities. This could provide a valuable spatial synthesis of several types of information relevant to the priority areas.
· The largest GIS data gap is in relation to sharks. There are a number of studies on sharks (i.e. NOAA fisheries observer boats, Fisheries Division’s datasets) but this data needs to be compiled and GIS data produced, which requires more significant effort than was possible within the scope of this inventory.
· There are also opportunities to improve GIS data related to marine turtles. Turtle migration is an example of this. There are multiple initiatives by various different turtle conservation organisations and academic institutions that are tracking the migrations of marine turtles in the region, especially by satellite. GIS data from satellite tracking from various locations in the region exists, but it has never been compiled at the regional level for large scale analysis of marine turtle migration. This task could be usefully undertaken in future, ideally in conjunction with the WIDECAST network.
· We note that some marine turtle data used in GIS are dynamic rather than static in nature and in the interests of data integrity they would benefit from updating. For example, new information is constantly becoming available from nesting monitoring activities, both new from new projects and the ongoing activities of longer term projects. There have also been discoveries of marine turtle aggregations at foraging sites, providing new data to input to GIS. Threats to marine turtles across the region are emerging and changing, for example in relation to tourism development, and creative approaches to GIS representation of this information could be developed to assist with monitoring impacts on population status and trends.
· In the course of this inventory we explored some new approaches to mapping marine turtle populations and trends with the aim of assisting interpretation and enhancing strategy development. The sample maps are based on data from Bonaire and the Guianas only, since comparable datasets were either missing for the other priority areas or could not be provided in the timeframe of the inventory. There is potential to work further with WWF on the development of new GIS layers that directly feed into the strategy development process.