Credit: © Kathryn Levasseur
In 1987, a small island in the Caribbean began taking care of their hawksbill, Eretmochelys imbricate turtles, realising the extreme danger in which this species finds itself. They now have the longest running research programme on their 450 nesting animals that have been tagged and identified. Long Island in Antigua gives the project its beach’s name – the Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project.
On the small island, suitable beach habitat is a bit short. Females can be measured nesting within 2-3 meters of each other – an incredibly high density that must disturb some pre-laid eggs in the process. Volunteers can easily check the total beach vegetation was not restricting the females nesting or too deficient to encourage these ladies to nest in their preferred sea-grape, inkberry, morning glory and bay cedar
gardens that the species prefer! Many Caribbean islands are rehabilitating their beach frontage, but this unique arrangement also suits the touristically-inclined.
Just as important as nest sites, the stock of turtles have provided genetic information. With more research, the groups that inhabit this Caribbean area could soon be recognised, while satellite tracking of 4 hawksbills since 1998 revealed their tracks from St. Kitts to St Eustatius and Redonda. The turtle is very shy of researchers, but Jumby Bay has managed to achieve an increase in turtle numbers after such nesting site care (and a record 90 turtles spotted in 2014). That is truly unique, with losses worldwide estimated at 80% over the last few centuries. Hawksbills are classed as critically endangered, but not near Jumby Bay, obviously. In Australia, plastic pollution ingestion by turtles has been extensively studied, proving to be the cause of death of many turtles, and possibly the extinction soon, of some species like the hawksbill.
This turtle species is a specialist in sponge-eating, making its position in the local ecosystem crucial for reef development. Elsewhere, in the Pacific here, for example, conservation success is rare, but equally enthusiastic. Evidence around the world and at Rendezvous Bay on Antigua points to another predation however, with older locals still fancying the endangered turtle meat.
Work in progress, let us say!