Jan 31, 2023

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Illegal fishing on East Africa’s coastline poses threat to sea turtles

Poaching and consumption of marine animals remain major threats to sea turtle conservation along the east coast of Africa.

According to researchers, human activities have threatened the survival of these ancient marine animals many times over the past 200 years . Sea turtles are slaughtered for their eggs, meat, skin and shell and suffer from poaching. They also face habitat destruction and accidental capture – known as bycatch – with fishing gear.

The experts reviewed evidence between 1965 and 2022, focusing on sea turtles along the coasts of Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, Mozambique and South Africa. It was a particularly “sad tale” for East Africa’s hawksbill turtles, according to the study.

However, there are success stories, including growing numbers of loggerhead turtles in South Africa and Mozambique, and increasingly effective conservation networks on the coast of Tanzania. The study is titled Sea Turtles of the East Coast of Africa: Current Knowledge and Priorities for Conservation and Research.

The research team, led by the University of Exeter and experts from Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa and the wider region of the western Indian Ocean, said the marine reptiles have to avoid hordes of threats even before they hatch.

“The turtles face many threats along the east coast of Africa, from egg to adult,” said lead author Casper van de Geer from the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the Penryn Campus in Exeter in Cornwall. “Our goal was to compile everything that is currently known about these turtles and find ways to better protect them in this rapidly developing region.”

“We realized that there is still much to do what we don’t know about these turtle populations, how many they actually are or where they spend most of their time and where they migrate to,” he noted. “If we use clutches of laid eggs as a measure of population, we see that some have recovered well in some places. For example, loggerhead turtles appear to be recovering in South Africa and Mozambique. However, leatherbacks have not responded as positively to conservation efforts in the same areas – suggesting that something is going on in their life cycle that is preventing them from recovering as quickly.”

Within the East African subregion illegal predation sea turtles have been found to be widespread in Madagascar. The results show that this is mostly done by local people. Domestic trade appears to be a well-organized activity involving the delivery of specimens between areas hundreds of kilometers apart. Illegal distribution networks operate on land and at sea.

In Mozambique, sea turtles have been found to have been caught as both targeted and non-targeted catches. Illegal harvesting is largely perpetrated by local artisanal fishermen who catch them for consumption and related trade. Domestic trade appears to be more localized than in Madagascar, as reports of long-distance trade within the country have not been apparent. Some reports of cross-border trade with Tanzania suggest that Mozambique is involved in the international trade in sea turtles.

“Cone turtles probably nest very far along this coast, but in the last 20 years this has almost completely stopped noted Van de Geer.

Sea turtles generally nest where they hatched, but once a species stops nesting in a particular location, it is difficult to nest there again. Apparently these critically endangered hawksbill turtles have relocated their nesting grounds to other locations in the western Indian Ocean from which they can hopefully recover.

The sea turtle is a vital link in marine ecosystems, contributing to the health of them coral reefs and seagrass meadows. The researchers note that despite good legislation protecting turtles, active conservation stakeholders and both scientific and local expertise in the region, better protection in line with the law and greater collaboration will be needed in response to increasing pressure on turtles due to human activity.