We know the beaches on which Sea Turtles lay their eggs, but once back in the ocean where do they go? Where do sharks go in their endless migrations? New research is beginning to answer these questions and unlock the mysteries of marine migration, thus offering hope for protecting these endangered species.
A Paradise for Hawksbill Sea Turtles
The beaches of the remote Arnavon Islands west of the Solomons are a paradise for hawksbill turtles. There are more than 900 sparsely populated islands in the Arnavons, a volcanic chain stretching across 1,000 miles of the South Pacific. The island’s beaches are the hawksbill’s primary breeding grounds, critical habitat, considering that hawksbills are listed as endangered by the International Conservation of Nature (IUCN). (photo – wildlifeanimalz)
Slaughtered to the Edge of Extinction
Hawksbills have traditionally been hunted for food and over the last two centuries they’ve been slaughtered to the edge of extinction, their colorful, “tortoise” shells sold to foreign traders for jewelry.
Upon attaining independence in 1978 the Arnavons were declared a hawksbill sanctuary. However, hunting continued, to the point in the late 1980’s that hunters were taking more than 4,000 turtles annually. Then, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) arrived and by 1995 they had helped to establish the 40,000 acre Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area and a nationwide ban on trading all turtle products shifted local sentiment away from hunting to conserving.
One in a Thousand Will Survive!
Turtle hatchlings are extremely vulnerable from the moment they leave the nest and race to the sea. Perhaps one in a thousand will reach maturity and then it may take up to 35 years before they are ready to nest. Consequently, conservation efforts begin with local rangers marking and protecting nests, then helping hatchlings cross the sand to the sea.
Thanks to these efforts the hawksbill population is beginning to rebound. A new TNC research project intends to take that effort a step further. Rick Hamilton, an Australian marine scientist is a turtle tracker and by tagging hawksbills with satellite tracking devices he hopes to uncover the mystery of where they go after they nest in the Arnavons. Hamilton says “We have a lot to learn.”
Hawksbills spend nearly their entire life at sea. After a few hours nesting in the islands some females might not return for up to seven years, consequently their migratory habits are poorly understood. This makes tracking their migrations a major focus in shaping additional conservation strategies.
Mama Kawaki a 150 pound, 4 foot, hawksbill was tagged with one of the 10 satellite tracking devices. Each time she surfaces to breath, her location will be transmitted to an orbiting satellite creating a map of her migration route.
“We’ll have a window on hawksbills that was shut tightly before,” Hamilton says. “I can’t wait to see inside their world.” Read more on The Nature Conservancy website. (photos by Tim Calver)
Migrating Whale Sharks Need Protection
Whale sharks like many species of shark are highly migratory, passing through protected areas into areas where they are vulnerable to overfishing. The fisheries of the world kill millions, possibly hundreds of millions of sharks each year.
However, a United Nations treaty organization, (CMS) the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals offers hope. 124 members of CMS will meet in Manila on October 23, 2017, to consider six proposals, offered to protect the world’s most threatened sharks. Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Israel have proposed a ban on the killing of whale sharks anywhere that they may migrate. Other proposals offer similar protections for other shark species.
The largest threat to sharks remains the global trade in shark fins. Blue sharks are the most heavily fished and yet none of the world’s fisheries management organizations have established sustainable catch limits. Consequently, it was highly significant that Blue sharks were one of the species proposed for protection by CMS in Manila.
Dusky sharks populations have decreased by over 80% and although proposed for protection by CMS it may be too late to save them.
Angel Sharks, Guitarfish and Wedgefish are Most Endangered
Angel Sharks, Guitarfish and Wedgefish populations have been decimated in many of their traditional environments because their fins are among the most valued in the shark fin trade. These three species are also among those proposed for CMS protection.
Once a species is listed for protection under CMS then pressure can be applied on the world’s fisheries management organizations to fall in line and enforce these protections, hopefully stemming the tide of declining shark populations. Numerous efforts worldwide to track shark migrations help in formulating conservation plans to protect these species where-ever they swim. Read the entire article from the Pew Trust.
Africa’s Largest Marine Protected Area is Created
The creation of the largest network of marine protected areas in Africa was announced in Gabon last week. Twenty marine parks and reserves, extending across 20,500 square miles will protect 26% of Gabon’s territorial waters and include Africa’s largest populations of Leatherback and Olive Ridley sea turtles.
Callum Roberts, a marine biologist from Great Britian says “West Africa is an area which has incredibly rich oceans, but it is being bled dry by international fishing fleets. In the space of a few decades, the waters of West Africa have moved from being a cornucopia of marine life to something that is far reduced from that. Protection is urgently needed to rebalance fish resources.”
In response to overfishing and pirate fishing the Gabon government intends to set up an ambitious sustainable fisheries management plan. Commercial fishing and local fishing fleets will be separated in an effort, to police fishing grounds and restore sustainable fishing.
“This is a big deal and an example for other countries,” says Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer in Residence. “If Gabon can do it, why can’t European countries, for example?” The world has 11,212 marine protected areas. However when combined, they protect just 2.98 percent of the oceans,
Read more about the World’s Marine Protected Areas in National Geographic’s: New Ocean Reserve, Largest in Africa, Protects Whales and Turtles by Laura Parker, June 5, 2017.
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