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Geo-tagging, turtle hatchery to boost local conservation

Monday, March 24, 2014
Turtle conservationist Kevin Muhammed, left, of the Grande Riviere Nature Tour Guides Association (GRNTGA) with Nigel Darlow, CEO, Atlantic. Atlantic has partnered with the Turtle Village Trust since 2008, and is the sole sponsor of the National Sea Turtle Tagging and Monitoring Programme.

T&T’s turtle conservation efforts will receive a boost in the near future with the establishment of a turtle hatchery and the use of GPS geo-tagging in the annual turtle census. 


These new initiatives—sponsored by LNG producer Atlantic as a component of its partnership with the Turtle Village Trust—were announced at a March 10 event held at the Valencia Visitor Centre to open the 2014 turtle season, which runs from March 1 to September 30. 


Atlantic CEO Nigel Darlow explained in a release about the event, that as a partner with the Turtle Village Trust since 2008, Atlantic has been the sole sponsor of the National Sea Turtle Tagging and Monitoring Programme and its activity in tracking Trinidad and Tobago’s turtle population and the turtles’ annual global migratory movements. 


“The Tagging and Monitoring Programme has provided critical data about the turtle population,” Darlow said. “Very importantly, nesting events in T&T have been on the increase over the last few turtle seasons. This is really encouraging and something which we must ensure is sustained year on year.” 


For the 2013 season, preliminary reports from the Tagging and Monitoring Programme indicate that there were 8,256 confirmed or estimated layings by 5,140 leatherback turtles. Based on the number of nests, it is estimated that the 2013 turtle population consisted of 10,280 nesting females. 


This contrasts with the 2012 estimate of a nesting population totalling 4,464 female turtles. 2013’s data was collated from 42 beaches and nesting sites, an expansion of the territory that was monitored in the previous ten years of the turtle census. In previous years, nesting activity has been monitored at only six “index” beaches: Fishing Pond, Matura, Grande Riviere in Trinidad; and Turtle Beach, Mt Irvine and Stonehaven Bay in Tobago. 


Using the data from the previous years, the Tagging and Monitoring Programme’s preliminary report suggests a positive trend in the number of leatherback nests in Trinidad and Tobago. However, the report further advises that the data should be viewed cautiously as it represents only a small subset of a much larger population estimate. 


“Those of us who visited Grande Riviere last year saw the situation for ourselves,” Darlow said. “At times there were more turtles nesting than there was beach for them to nest. This situation poses a new threat to the turtles, and it is clear that there is new work to be done this season. We may have to create new spaces where the turtles can lay their eggs without disturbance and without threat to the hatchlings.” 


Designed to address that particular challenge of crowded nesting beaches, the turtle hatchery will allow turtle conservation groups and communities proximate to nesting sites to gather and re-nest turtle eggs in a managed facility. This will provide safe conditions for the turtle hatchlings, who will then be released into the seas, improving their survival rates. 


“More details about the turtle hatchery will be announced in coming months,” Darlow said. “Atlantic is very eager to partner with the Turtle Village Trust to make this hatchery a reality.” 


Atlantic will also sponsor the Turtle Village Trust’s introduction of GPS technology for the geo-tagging for the 2014 season. Atlantic will sponsor ten turtles this season. 


“This pilot group of turtles will help us understand the turtles’ migratory patterns from a global perspective,” Darlow said. “This data will be used to develop conservation programmes that are even more effective.” 


Other speakers at the Turtle Season opening event included Senator the Hon Ganga Singh, Minister of the Environment and Water Resources; and Dr Allan Bachan, Executive Director of the Turtle Village Trust. 


The Turtle Village Trust (TVT) is an NGO which works with community groups to conserve sea turtles and protect their nesting beaches. Atlantic’s annual sponsorship of the TVT’s National Sea Turtle Tagging and Monitoring Programme is one of several initiatives facilitated by the LNG company that focus on building Sustainability in T&T. The Tagging and Monitoring Programme gathers information about the population of nesting leatherbacks, hawksbill and green turtles in T&T; and about the resident population of hawksbill and green turtles foraging on the reefs and sea grass beds around Tobago. The data gathered contributes to the overall management of sea turtles locally, regionally and globally. 


Atlantic’s partnerships with NGOs facilitate energy skills training and certification, agri-entrepreneurship, community and youth development through sports and education and youth leadership development.


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