STENAPA’s protection of Caribbean Sea turtles
Each year, hawksbill and green turtles, and sometimes even leatherback turtles, come to the beaches of Statia to lay their eggs. New protocols, developed by two research students from Van Hall Larenstein University, will aid in STENAPA’s ability to accurately and safely track sea turtle beach activity and hatchling success in the future.
Three different types of turtles can be found on the beaches and in the surrounding waters of St. Eustatius: the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), green turtle (Chelonia mydas), and leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). The hawksbill and green turtle are frequent visitors of the waters of Statia and can be encountered during snorkeling or diving. Every year, nesting hawksbill and green turtles can be found on the beaches. A less frequent visitor is the leatherback turtle. They can only be spotted while nesting since the leatherback is a deep-sea species. Occasionally, a nest of a Leatherback turtle can be found on St. Eustatius.
Hawksbill sea turtle. Photo credit: Naturepics: Y.+T. Kühnast
STENAPA monitors the beaches, both morning and night, to identify new nests and track hatching success. The details and information from these beach patrols are collected by filling in data sheets. Those data sheets can be used internationally for the purpose of having comparable data. Annemieke Borsch and Louise Kramár, two students from Van Hall Larenstein University, recently produced protocols as part of an explanatory report in cooperation and guidance from STENAPA. These protocols cover morning patrol, night patrol and next excavation while the whole report can be used as a guide for how to perform certain tasks in a correct, safe and careful way during patrols.
Importance of data collection
Data collection on turtles is important because it gives information on the status of the species. Baseline information can become important when a new factor comes into play, to see what the effect of the factor is. Besides this, the data collection gives insight in the population trends, if it is declining or growing. It also makes it possible to detect diseases or parasites in a population in an early state. The data collection is also important to get to know the species better, for example habitat, food source and breeding grounds, to protect these necessary factors for the turtles.
Green sea turtle. Photo credit: Naturepics: Y.+T. Kühnast
Why turtles need protection
The green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles are on the IUCN red list of endangered species. The green turtle is listed as ‘’endangered’’ and the hawksbill and leatherback turtles are listed as ‘’critically endangered’’. Sea turtles need protection because they are keystone species. This means, that they are an important part of the marine environment and have an influence on the species living among them. Hawksbill turtles live close to the coral reefs, where they feed on sponges which compete with corals for space. Green turtles are important because they feed on seagrass, which keeps the seagrass ecosystem healthy meaning it can take up more carbon and sustain more species this way. Leatherback turtles are known to control the number of jellyfish in the oceans. Besides the ecological benefits, the turtles are also important for coastal communities, since many people rely on the incomes that are being provided by turtle watching and diving. Some indigenous communities see turtles as a part of their culture and there is said that seeing a turtle in the wild has psychological and emotional benefits.
How to support
There are several ways to contribute to the conservation of sea turtles on Statia. If you are interested in helping, STENAPA offers both part- and full-time volunteering programs (for more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org and/or check out https://www.statiapark.org/vacancies-turtle-program/). Together with the National Parks Staff you can take part in the in-water surveys conducted throughout the Marine Park. If scuba diving is not possible, staff are happy to provide training for beach patrols so that you would be able to assist in the monitoring of nesting turtles on the beaches. Since the turtles are protected, people are not allowed to disturb them. This is the reason why you should contact STENAPA if you want to be involved and not go looking for turtles by yourself.
STENAPA needs volunteers especially for the patrols since it is necessary to be done a few times a week during nesting season. Their wish is for the (local) volunteers to be able to patrol as independently as possible with the help from instructions and the protocols guiding them.
To learn more about STENAPA and the turtle species on St. Eustatius you can go to the website: www.statiapark.org. If you are interested in protocols about morning and night patrols and the nest-excavations, send your request to STENAPA.
Published in BioNews 54