Sharing Sea Turtle Knowledge

St. Maarten Nature Foundation staff release a Hawksbill Sea Turtle back into the waterSea turtles are not only dispersed across the entire globe, but individuals also migrate hundreds and even thousands of miles, making them a true trans-boundary species. Unfortunately sea turtles are also under serious threat of extinction due to over-harvesting and loss of habitat. The parks and conservation organizations of the Dutch Caribbean recognize the importance and value of saving these millennia old reptiles and we have therefore prioritized it as a capacity building theme.

Last week, the St. Maarten Nature Foundation teamed up with Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire (STCB), to conduct an in-water assessment of St. Maarten’s sea turtle population while building capacity within the Nature Foundation to undertake regular sea turtle monitoring in the Man of War Shoal Marine Park and around the island of St. Maarten.

The week’s worth of intensive training involved three members of STCB, who trained staff, veterinarians and volunteers of the St. Maarten Nature Foundation. The Nature Foundation, which already monitors sea turtle nests on St. Maarten’s beaches was trained in water surveying, health assessments, tagging and measuring of the local resident sea turtle population.

Watch the participants tag a Hawksbill on YouTube

Both species of sea turtles that call St. Maarten’s waters home, the Hawksbill and Green Turtle, were encountered while conducting the in-water monitoring surveys.

“This work has been different for us due to the fact that previously on St. Maarten only turtles that came up the beach to lay their eggs were counted and measured. This time around we were thought firstly how to record sea-turtles in their environment in the wild, but also how to tag and capture sea turtles that might be in distress. This is the first time an in depth and wide-scale study in the islands turtle populations was conducted,” stated Tadzio Bervoets, St. Maarten Nature Foundation.

Similar to the situation on Bonaire, the workshop participants encountered multiple turtles that were wounded and scarred from fishing line and hooks. Last year, STCB in partnership with DCNA launched a fishing gear removal project to help eliminate this threat to turtles and other species and serve as a model for the Dutch Caribbean.

Read the Sea Turtle Workshop Report 2012