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SIX YEARS OF CONSERVATION EFFORTS FOR GREEN TURTLES IN THE SOUTHERN END OF TORTUGUERO NATIONAL

SIX YEARS OF CONSERVATION EFFORTS FOR GREEN TURTLES IN

THE SOUTHERN END OF TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK, COSTA RICA

Alejandra Carvallo Carrera 1 , Emma Harrison 2

RICA Alejandra Carvallo Carrera 1 , Emma Harrison 2 1. Base Manager GVI Jalova base, Tortuguero

1. Base Manager GVI Jalova base, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica (tortuguero@gviworld.com), 2. Scientific Director, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Costa Rica

Introduction

Results

Global Vision International (GVI), has been working in partnership with the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) since 2010, as part of STCs sea turtle conservation program which began in 1955 (Carr et al., 1978) and is now the longest continuous turtle monitoring program in history. GVIs involvement has allowed the expansion of STCs program along the Caribbean coast.

GVI conducts monitoring activities at the southern end of Tortuguero National Park (TNP), collecting valuable data on green (Chelonia mydas), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles. With the support of staff and volunteers from all over the world, conservation efforts to protect sea turtles along this stretch of beach are improving. In collaboration with the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), we work to preserve both the beach habitat and the sea turtles that nest there. Tortuguero beach is the most important nesting site for the endangered green turtle in the Western Hemisphere, and so has global significance for this species.

Hemisphere, and so has global significance for this species. Fig.1 Study area. Map showing in yellow

Fig.1 Study area. Map showing in yellow the four miles of beach monitored by

Methods

During green turtle nesting season (June —Oct), night patrols and morning surveys are undertaken along four miles of beach in TNP. In addition to collecting data on the turtle populations and nesting, our presence on the beach also deters poachers from taking turtles or eggs out of the National Park.

As part of the track survey protocol during green season, data is collected on the level of nesting activity from the previous night as well as signs of any illegal take, such as poaching of nesting females or nests, or harpooning of turtles in near-shore waters (observed from the nesting beach of TNP and recorded).

Fig. 4 shows the number of green turtle nests recorded each year; there was considerable annual variation in nesting. Fig. 5 indicates the number of encoun- ters with green turtles during night patrols; though patrol effort differed between years.

Poaching of turtles and nests was reported in all six years of the study. An increase in poaching was observed during peak nesting season in July and August (see Fig. 6). Levels of poaching were very low each year, with a maximum of five nests taken per season (2011 and 2014); in all years poached was less than 2% of the total number of nests recorded (see Figs. 4 & 7). Unfortunately, females were also taken from the nesting beach each season (see Fig. 7).

Number of nest

30000

25000 20000 15000 10000 5000 0 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Fig.4 Number of
25000
20000
15000
10000
5000
0
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
Fig.4 Number of green turtle nests per year, 2010—2015.
The blue line depicts annual nest abundance, from daily track surveys

Number of turtles

700

600 500 400 300 200 100 0 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Fig.5 Number
600
500
400
300
200
100
0
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
Fig.5 Number of encounters during night patrols 2010—2015.
Green turtles that have been observed by GVI within the 6 year period
Poachingevents
Poachingevents

Fig.2 Excavation of green turtle nest. Volunteers observing a nest excavation done by a staff member in August 2015.

a nest excavation done by a staff member in August 2015. Fig.3 Green turtle track. During

Fig.3 Green turtle track. During a morning survey a green turtle track is recorded on the beach of TNP.

3.5 2011 3 2013 2.5 2014 2 2015 1.5 1 0.5 0 April June July
3.5
2011
3
2013
2.5
2014
2
2015
1.5
1
0.5
0
April
June
July
August
Months with presence of poaching activity

Fig.6 Temporal distribution of poaching 20102015. Each year is shown as a different colors, and the bars indicate the number

8

7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Poached
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
Poached nest
Poached turtle
Fig.7 Annual poaching activity 2010—2015.
The green line is the number of nests and the blue line the number of turtles
poached each year
Quantity

Jaguar predation on marine turtles has been recorded in TNP, but the preda- tion rates are not significantly large enough to influence marine turtle populations in the area. This predator-prey interaction between jaguar and green turtles has drawn attention to TNP, giving the opportunity to research this relationship showing that less than 2% of the green turtle population is affected. Although the effects on the turtle population are small, the interac- tion is constant as both species share the same stretch of beach during turtle nesting season (see Fig.8)

stretch of beach during turtle nesting season (see Fig.8) Fig.8 Green turtle hatchling and a jaguar

Fig.8 Green turtle hatchling and a jaguar print in TNP

Fig.8 Green turtle hatchling and a jaguar print in TNP Fig.9 Green turtle hatchling making its

Fig.9 Green turtle hatchling making its way to the ocean in TNP

Discussion

As the major nesting site for green turtles in the western hemisphere, TNP

has been at the center of conservation efforts for this species for many

years. GVI has recently become involved in monitoring and protection

activities through their collaboration with STC; they have also helped to raise

awareness about threats to sea turtles in the area.

Results indicate that GVIs work over the last six years has helped maintain low levels of illegal poaching activity at the southern end of TNP; the presence of volunteers and staff on the beach reduces the opportunities for poachers to take nests or turtles without being observed. Additional patrols and monitoring close to Jalova has also provided STC with data to increase knowledge about green turtle nesting behavior in this area.

This all helps to ensure the continued existence of the population of green turtles at one of the most important nesting sites for this endangered species. GVI will continue its partnership with STC to help conserve green turtles in TNP in future years.

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to Global Vision International and Sea Turtle Conservancy for their support throughout the years to make these conserva- tion efforts possible. We acknowledge all the GVI staff members and volunteers without whom the data collection would not have been possible. We would also like to thank MINAE, SINAC and park rangers from Tortu- guero National Park.

References

Carr, A., M. H. Carr and A. B. Meylan. 1978. The Ecology and Migrations of Sea Turtles, 7. The West Caribbean Green Turtle Colony. Bull. Amer. Mus. Natur.