MCS celebrates as its turtle conservation recommendations are adopted by Caribbean islands

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 11 March 2014

MCS celebrates as its turtle conservation recommendations are adopted by Caribbean islands Turks and Caicos Islands turtles now set for a brighter future After five years of working alongside the fishermen and authorities of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in the Caribbean, MCS says it’s delighted that the regions turtles face a much safer future.

MCS celebrates as its turtle conservation recommendations are adopted by Caribbean islands Turks and Caicos Islands turtles now set for a brighter future After five years of working alongside the fishermen and authorities of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in the Caribbean, MCS says it’s delighted that the regions turtles face a much safer future. The TCI Government have just approved MCS recommended changes to the laws that regulate the traditional turtle fishery in the British Overseas Territory. MCS research revealed that up to 600 green and hawksbill turtles were being caught every year as part of the legal, traditional turtle fishery in the TCI. The TCI Turtle Project, led by MCS and partners the TCI Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) and the University of Exeter, wanted to see better protection for the vital breeding adult turtles in the region by developing a sustainable fishery management plan for the islands government to implement. MCS says its unique style of work with the local fishing communities has now paid off and the conservation gains include improved restrictions on the size of turtles that can be caught to allow more mature animals to breed. The charity hopes this will contribute to the recovery of turtle populations breeding in TCI, which have declined in recent decades. Dr Peter Richardson, MCS Biodiversity Programme Manager, said the project team had listened closely to people working in the traditional turtle fishery and spent many hours out on the fishing grounds carrying out cutting-edge research, including genetic analysis and satellite tracking turtles, to be better understand how the islands turtles could continue to be fished whilst ensuring better conservation. “We had to find a balance between the needs of the turtles and the needs of the communities that use them. There was no appetite amongst the fishing communities for a complete ban on the fishery due to its cultural importance, and evidence of recovery in some of the larger turtle populations in the wider Caribbean region suggests they can sustain some harvest. Our research with the fishers confirmed that size really does matter, and it soon became clear that restrictions on taking the large and breeding turtles would ensure the long-term future of the local and regional turtle populations and the turtle fishery, Ø says Dr Richardson. MCS TCI Project Officer and social scientist, Amdeep Sanghera, spent two years living in South Caicos and working with local government project partners at the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources and Duke University in North Carolina to create a film: é’Talking Turtle in the Big South’ - a reference to the local name for South Caicos. It looked at how the community viewed turtles and their management and featured interviews with local community members giving their opinions on the fishery. The film was then screened all over the islands from bars to beach huts and back yards with the ensuing discussions captured by the Project team analysed and considered in the final turtle fishery management recommendations. “Working in this way, combining biological research and novel stakeholder engagement, was new to MCS and to the TCI, so we’re delighted that the time and effort put into all the elements of this project has turned into such an informed and positive result, Ø says Dr Richardson. Other key recommendations that have been taken forward and will become law include prohibition on export of turtle products from the islands; a ban on catching the other marine turtle species that may be found in Caribbean waters including the leatherback, loggerhead, Kemp’s and olive ridley turtle species; gear restrictions so that green and hawksbills turtles can only be caught by hand, and a requirement to be land captured turtles alive, which will allow the live release of under and over-sized turtles. MCS project partners DEMA will now be ensuring that fishermen comply with the new legislation, and Director Kathleen Wood, says she’s delighted that the TCI Cabinet has approved these regulations, which will significantly improve the way we manage our traditional turtle fishery. “The way MCS and partners worked diligently with our fishermen over several years to develop these recommendations was very welcome, and means that the new measures are reasonable, proportionate, and will help protect our turtle resource. We are looking to use the same stakeholder engagement methods to address other pressing marine conservation issues here in TCI, Ø says Ms Wood. Dr Richardson added: “This project shows that with a little thought and consideration, the expertise of a small Ross on Wye charity can work intelligently with communities thousands of miles across the ocean and encourage them to think differently about the resources on which they depend. Ø

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