Increasing interest in the plight of sea turtles in the Caribbean has led to the adoption of protective legislation and conservation initiatives in many of the region’s countries and territories. For conservation plans to be effective, however, they must include ongoing assessments of the status of sea turtles and their habitats. Long-term surveys of abundance at nesting beaches and foraging grounds can provide managers with critical information, including population trends, patterns of habitat use, and quantitative data on the success of conservation and management efforts.
WIDECAST experts recently created the region’s first comprehensive atlas of sea turtle nesting beaches, and we are currently working on a similar assessment of foraging habitat. The atlas will enable us to develop an “index site monitoring program”, an initiative that will also include training for local project leaders, a comprehensive procedures manual, and a suite of new reporting tools developed specifically for the Caribbean region.
Why an “index” program? Because it is almost impossible to count all nesting turtles on all nesting beaches (or all foraging turtles at all foraging grounds) throughout our large region – so monitoring a sub-sample of habitats, carefully selected to be representative of the region as a whole, is a useful way to evaluate population status. Index monitoring lets managers know whether their populations are rising or falling, and how local trends compare with results obtained elsewhere in the population’s range.
Pending implementation of the index program, the following references are currently available to help project staff undertake and evaluate sea turtle monitoring programs:
Bjorndal, K.A. and A.B. Bolten (Editors). 2000. Proceedings of a Workshop on Assessing Abundance and Trends for In-water Sea Turtle Populations. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-445. U.S. Department of Commerce. 83 pp.
Chacón, D., B. Dick, E. Harrison, L. Sarti M. and M. Solano (Editors). 2008. Manual sobre técnicas de manejo y conservación de las tortugas marinas en playas de anidación de Centroamé Publicado por la Secretaria Pro Tempore de la Convención Interamericana para la Protección y Conservación de las Tortugas Marinas. San José, Costa Rica. 54 pp.
Eckert, K.L. and F.A. Abreu Grobois (Editors). 2001. Proceedings of the Regional Meeting: “Marine Turtle Conservation in the Wider Caribbean Region: A Dialogue for Effective Regional Management”, Santo Domingo, 16-18 November 1999. WIDECAST, IUCN-MTSG, WWF and UNEP-CEP. xx + 154 pp.
Eckert, K.L., K.A. Bjorndal, F.A. Abreu G. and M.A. Donnelly (Editors). 1999.
Research and Management Techniques for the Conservation of Sea Turtles. IUCN/SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group Publication No. 4. Washington, D.C. 235 pp.
Kutzari. 2006. Manual Tecnicas de Corrales de Tortugas Marinas. Kutzari, Asociación para el Estudio y Conservación de las Tortugas Marinas, A.C. Mexico City, Mexico. 13 pp.
Stapleton, S.P. and K.L. Eckert. 2008. Community-Based Sea Turtle Research and Conservation in Dominica: A Manual of Recommended Practices. Prepared by the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) and the Dominica Sea Turtle Conservation Organization (DomSeTCO), with funding from the U. S. Agency for International Development. WIDECAST Technical Report No. 8. Beaufort, North Carolina. viii + 47 pp.