Protecting Green Sea Turtles in Galapagos
A Charles Darwin Foundation initiative we will help.
The Galapagos Islands are an important site in the Eastern Pacific (EP) for several migratory marine species. The Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) represents the second-most important nesting area for the endangered East Pacific green turtle. The critically endangered Hawksbill turtles and Olive Ridley turtle have also been registered here. Generally, marine turtles migrate long distances from their nesting beaches to feeding grounds when the breeding season is over.
A proportion of the turtles that nest in Galapagos, however, tend to stick around the GMR as it is an ideal foraging ground. Despite the establishment of the GMR, major threats to sea turtles remain in the Galapagos, including feral cats that feed on hatchlings, tourism activities including boat travel, and fishing which are allowed at many sites where sea turtles forage, bask, and nest.
With 50% increase of the visitor numbers in the last 10 years, boat traffic is expanding dramatically, threatening biodiversity, and placing conservation goals in direct conflict with economic growth. Specifically, boat strikes have emerged as one of the most prominent mortality factors for air breathing marine vertebrates locally, and worldwide.
The Galapagos Archipelago represents the sharp edge of this problem with a recent boom in small, fast boat traffic (e.g.: Island hopping, public transport, diving and snorkeling tours) resulting in increased sea turtle injury and mortality.
With the increase of demand for at sea activities due tourism and local population growth, the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and the Ecuadorian government recognized the need to take action in order to protect marine wildlife, including sea turtle species, and in 2014 created the Management Plan for Protected Areas of Galapagos, that states in one of the key objectives, the need to regulate marine traffic to avoid impact on the marine species.
In response to this need, the Charles Darwin Foundation, in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast and the GNPD, has designed a project to provide the environmental authorities with the scientific evidence to generate marine traffic regulations and motivate changes in touristic practices to improve the protection of marine wildlife. In this project we are generating the evidence that GNPD will need to create a strategy to mitigate the threats from marine traffic.
During the last two years, we have been tracking turtles in the water to understand important swimming, feeding, and breeding behaviors. So far, we have found that sea turtles are especially vulnerable to boat strikes due to their shallow swimming behavior and they occupy many locations that are popular for tourism. With this information we are building a collision risk model that can help identify improvements in boating practice (i.e., speed limits and new navigation routes) and improve beach management.
Keep reading more about the project here: https://www.darwinfoundation.org/en/research/projects/sea-turtles
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