WILLEMSTAD — Curaçao has taken another step forward in the protection of some of the island’s most charismatic and threatened species – sea turtles. On February 18 and 19 the Secretary pro tempore of the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC), accompanied by the Dutch delegate to the IAC, of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the director of Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire met with the Curaçao Ministry of Health, Environment and Nature, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as CARMABI and Uniek Curaçao, to start the development of a monitoring program to asses the number of nesting and in-water sea turtles of Curaçao. This information will then be used to determine if sea turtles are in- or decreasing in number on Curaçao.
Last year brought increased protection for sea turtles on Curaçao with the establishment of four new Ramsar sites in February and the banning of destructive gillnet practices, which will go into effect in May 2014, after a five year exoneration period. It will still take strict enforcement of rules and regulations to control persistent illegal gillnetting.
The recent discussions with the IAC Secretary have led to a collaborative agreement to monitor Shete Boka’s beaches throughout the sea turtle nesting season (May – December) and monitor sea turtles at one of the key feeding areas on Curaçao – Boka Ascencion. The data collected will not only track Curaçao’s sea turtle nesting trends, but will contribute to a regional dataset that monitors Caribbean population trends.
Sea turtles are long-lived species that reach sexual maturity after 20 – 30 years of age and migrate great distances at different stages of their lives. These unique life history features necessitate international cooperation and long-term monitoring programs to best understand and safeguard these endangered species.
Once amazingly abundant, Caribbean sea turtles have seen rapid decline since the time of European expansion in the Americas. Scientists estimate that in the 1600’s, over 90 million Green Turtles swam the Caribbean seas. Today the number is estimated at 300,000. Hawksbills have plunged 99.7% from 11 million to 30,000. Both Green Turtles and Hawksbills nest on Curaçao.
Today, fishing gear entanglement, illegal harvesting, coastal development, marine pollution and climate change are still putting serious pressure on sea turtle populations, which remain threatened with extinction not only in the Caribbean, but across the globe.
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