A global report into the leatherback sea turtle population has downgraded the species to critically endangered and this country’s nesting sites may be the only thing that saves them from extinction.
The Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) decadal report shows alarming trends globally where once-popular leatherback nesting sites are showing a precipitous decline. According to the report in French Guiana, the population decreased by 99 per cent, while in the Pacific, the return of leatherbacks to those nesting sites have dropped by 78 per cent.
Dr Reia Guppy, an assistant professor at the University of Trinidad and Tobago’s Marine Sciences Department said this puts a lot of responsibility on this country.
“The general trend has been an overall decline where Trinidad is perhaps the last major site of leatherbacks perhaps even in the world because the Pacific population has collapsed and the Caribbean population is beginning to collapse.”
Dr Guppy said this country is seeing the presence of leatherbacks that used to previously go to other territories such as Cuba and Nova Scotia. She believes three factors are driving the population not only downwards but could be bringing them to our shores.
“One of course is habitat decline, from urban development to coastal erosion, two, you have major trawlers that’s in the open deep sea waters that catch them in nets and you also have potential declines in their food stock such as jellyfish and as climate change happens their food stock will change.”
But that does not mean there are declines at nesting sites here in Trinidad as well. The report shows that this country’s returning population is dropping but not at the rate of other countries.
“For example Grand Riviere is one of our largest nesting sites, for the last 5 years or so normally you’d see 200 or 300 turtles at any given hour, about 3 years ago there was a massive decline, you’d be hard-pressed to get 50 in one night.”
And the conservation group Nature Seekers is corroborating that. Chairman Kyle Mitchell told Guardian Media that they too are noting a worrying downward trend.
“Where you would generally have upwards of 300 per night you are now seeing 150 or 200, that may still sound like a lot but when you compare that to previous years you’ll definitely notice the change, so, for example, Nature Seekers did a report in 2017-2018 and that report for Matura beach shows a 5-6 per cent decline every year so if we continue that trend the population may reach a state where it cannot recover.”
So given that this country could be the last guard against their extinction, the pressure is on for preservation and repopulation.
“Certainly a major thing would be to protect the nesting sites, we need to ensure we continue to monitor the numbers because that is where the heart of the information is coming from also if it does become a reality that our leatherbacks will decline to alarming numbers we can consider artificial nesting sites which is not a popular opinion.”
Getting the numbers up seems to be the top priority for conservationists as they fear if nothing is done, future generations may only be able to read about these majestic creatures.