Sea turtle population Simpson Bay Lagoon almost non-existent

POSTED: 10/31/12 12:02 PM

St. Maarten – Over the past week the St. Maarten Nature Foundation, in cooperation with the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire, has conducted extensive and intensive research into the local sea turtle population.
Three members of Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire visited St. Maarten for a week’s worth of intensive training and surveying in which staff, trained veterinarians and Nature Foundation volunteers were given the opportunity to conduct in-water surveying, health assessments, tagging and measuring of the local resident sea turtle population.

“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 taught 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 such an in depth and wide-scale study was conducted,” the Nature Foundation said in a statement released yesterday.

Various hawksbills and green sea turtles were counted, tagged and measured while conducting diving surveys in all of the waters surrounding St. Maarten. Initial reports show that there is a reasonably stable population of sea turtles offshore with various species being checked for health. Several turtles were also given identifying tags so that their progress can be continuously recorded.

A survey in the Simpson Bay Lagoon yielded little evidence of a resident sea turtle population.. “We were disappointed although not surprised to see that the sea turtle population in this location was almost non-existent considering the level of pollution, and the lack of food in the area. We will be communicating this fact to decision makers with the hope that conservation efforts will be increased in the lagoon and that in the near future some areas will once again see sea turtles return. We are cautiously optimistic of this due to turtles having historically made their home in the lagoon.”

Another issue investigated was the impact experienced by local sea turtles from fishing pressure; “We have noticed that many turtles have horrible scars and wounds from fish hooks and lines. We will be again working with decision makers and stakeholders in developing means to reduce the number of fishhooks and fishing lines drifting in the sea. Although we regularly do underwater cleanups we need to add to our efforts.”

St. Maarten is home to two sea turtle species the Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtle, with a third species the Leatherback visiting each March to October to lay eggs on the beaches. Sea turtles are critically endangered and worldwide conservation efforts are being initiated to save the species from extinction. The Nature Foundation manages the local sea turtle conservation program.

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