Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Monday, 22nd December 2014
A recent Living Planet Report revealed a staggering loss of wildlife over the last 40 years. Amongst those suffering the biggest losses are sea turtles, with a drastic 80% reduction in numbers. Threatened by unsustainable fishing practices, the loss of nesting grounds, hunting and the harvesting of eggs, conservation projects are now more important than ever.
WorkingAbroad’s Leatherback Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme is one such conservation project hoping to turn these statistics around. Based in picturesque Grenada, Ocean Spirits’ dedicated volunteers are working with the local community to ensure turtles remain a part of the country’s unique biodiversity.
Levera beach is one of the largest nesting sites for leatherbacks in the Caribbean and only one of eight beaches monitored regularly by volunteers. Whilst at work on Levera volunteers monitor turtle activities, collect data and tag any unmarked female turtles. The collection of population and individual information like this is a main priority as it is used to recommend resource management.
Night patrols of the main leatherback sea turtle nesting site are undertaken to help protect and monitor nesting activity and any emerging hatchlings. Patrols are followed by morning surveys to identify any tracks, record new nests and monitor the success of hatchlings. Volunteers also record any harmful activities such as egg poaching. On average volunteers have spent an impressive 31,500 hours working on each season’s data collection so far.
In 2014 the data collected at Levera beach was extremely promising with a total of 1,525 turtle activities recorded. Volunteers have helped with data collection such as carapace (shell) measurements, egg counts, nest excavations and nest relocations. In 2014 there have been 1,144 confirmed nests with a total of 110,541 eggs counted.
Tagging unmarked females is important as it allows returning females to be recorded and provides information on the nesting population. The tagging programme is also crucial for tracking the turtles as they move away from their nesting beaches to feeding grounds. As a result the team are able to document the exchange of turtles from neighbouring islands. 443 tags were attached to unmarked females on Levera beach this year alone.
Taking measurements of the individuals they come across is an important component of data collection for volunteers. This year the largest turtle recorded was 177.6 cm whilst the smallest was 131.4 cm, much larger than 2011 when the smallest measured in at just 97.2cm.
Every season volunteers also get involved with school environmental science clubs, summer camps and turtle awareness days and their input is always greatly appreciated. Education is a crucial component of conservation, not only to explain the importance of sea turtles to the community but to inspire interest in the next generation of advocates for the environment.
Although Carnival may sound like one big excuse for a party, getting all the volunteers involved with the local community is a great way to build relationships. Volunteers get involved by designing turtle costumes and banners. Occasions like this are a great way to engage with the community on a positive note and celebrate the conservation of sea turtles.
If you want to find out more about how you can join the volunteer team in Grenada please click here.
By Megan Smith, WorkingAbroad team
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