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Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are one of the most threatened of all animal groups, with all five of the species found in Mozambique listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered worldwide. Unfortunately, despite being legally protected since 1965, poaching is an increasing threat. Our previous marine conservation work has identified the coast of Inhambane Province to have the highest rate of poaching in the country.

 

Discussions with long‐term residents indicate that the numbers of nesting sea turtles have been dramatically reduced. There is little marine science capacity within the country and information on sea turtle biology and behaviour is poorly known. No focused studies have examined the impacts of illegal hunting or the reasons why it occurs. This project has been specifically designed to address this knowledge gap by surveying current and former poachers to improve understanding of techniques and motivations to develop practical solutions. Complimentary works to determine the population structure of marine turtles along the southern Mozambican coast using in-water techniques and an assessment of the impacts of poaching on the population will occur.

 

To understand the impacts of this poaching, and the most important areas to protect, we also need information on the turtle population itself. Almost all the marine turtle research conducted around the world to date has focused on nesting females, as they are at their most accessible when hauling themselves ashore. Unfortunately, the data obtained from these large females is not representative of the population at large. To learn more, we have to join them underwater. To aid these efforts, we are recruiting the scuba diving community as research assistants. Marine turtles are uniquely identifiable by their facial scales and exploiting this natural ‘fingerprint’ for research purposes offers a number of innovative benefits, including an absence of invasive capture or handling, the lack of specialist equipment and training required, and the cost effectiveness of using a large number of volunteer participants.

 

Project Objectives:

 

To determine the population structure of sea turtles along the southern Mozambican coast, using in-water techniques and to assess the impacts of poaching.

 

To reduce the level of illegal poaching in the Tofo area by working with the poachers to identify their motivations and develop solutions.

 

Meet our Mozambican representatives.

Five of the world’s seven species occur in Mozambican waters. If you would like to see photos of each of these species, please visit our Sea Turtle Photo Gallery.

 

Tartarugas para Amanhã: Turtles for Tomorrow

A collaborative annual report is compiled each year in Mozambique to present the status of the nesting season countrywide. The 2011/2012 report can be accessed here: Mozambique annual status report 2011/2012.

 

From browsing this report, a key feature you may notice are high levels of data deficiencies for marine turtle nesting activity, poaching rates and in-water population information. This is why we at Marine Megafauna Foundation have launched a wide-scale in-water citizen science sea turtle monitoring program (Tartarugas para Amanhã: Turtles for Tomorrow). So little knowledge is available for marine turtles in Mozambique, particularly information about foraging populations in the water, but with such a large coastline and little resources available to survey it fully, we have decided a part of the solution to this knowledge gap is to launch Tartarugas para Amanhã: Turtles for Tomorrow.

 

Tartarugas para Amanhã is a citizen science program for recreational divers to report encounters with turtles on dives to help us monitor the foraging portion of local sea turtle populations. By knowing how many turtles are encountered on dives, what species and size they were, as well as how they behaved, we can begin to create a baseline of knowledge, which we can then use to monitor the impacts of illegal poaching against.

The emphasis of the program is for divers to submit photographs that can be used to identify individual turtles based on unique facial patterning. To ensure the maximum accuracy when using these photos to identify individual turtles, a left and right facial profile is required and we are also requesting a carapace shot from directly above. The purpose of this carapace shot is to document any unique identifying markers the turtles may have, like scars, chunks missing in the carapace, missing limbs, barnacles or carapace abnormalities.

 

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