Protection of nesting beaches to prevent extinction of green turtles on Aldabra Atoll

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Published: 16 April 2018
Last edited: 30 April 2018
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Summary

Historical exploitation of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) on Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles) led to a dramatic decline in the numbers of nesting turtles, with the lowest numbers observed in the late 1960s. In 1968 turtle protection regulations were implemented throughout Seychelles. Aldabra Atoll was designated a special reserve in 1981 managed by the Seychelles Islands Foundation and in 1982, Aldabra became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Turtles at Aldabra have been well protected both in law and in practice with turtle nesting beaches strictly protected from poaching, development and pollution. The protection has been accompanied by consistent monitoring of turtle emergences. The successful conservation efforts have boosted the turtle population to 500-800% over a period of 40 years with an estimated 3100-5225 females nesting annually. Aldabra Atoll now holds one of the largest nesting rookeries for green turtles in the Western Indian Ocean.

Classifications

Region
East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Local
National
Ecosystem
Beach
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Theme
Coastal and marine spatial management
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Islands
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected area governance
Science and research
World Heritage
Sustainable development goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 11: Protected areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
(I)NDC Submission

Location

Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles

Challenges

The green turtle has historically been exploited for meat and eggs onAldabra Atoll. In the late 1800s a small settlement was built for commercial exploitation. A record from 1926 states that 1,200 turtles were taken, consisting mostly of nesting females. Turtle harvest declined, dropping to a few hundred turtles annually in the late 1960s. Following implementation of protection and regulations Aldabra changed from being a place of harvest to an area of protection, conservation and recovery and green turtles were no longer seen as just a food source. Aldabra has been operated since early 1970s strictly as a research base occupied by not more than 20 inhabitants. Green turtle nesting habitat is also under threat from human development and destruction and the introduction of non-native predators worldwide. Establishing protected areas where turtle nesting habitat is undisturbed, where adult turtles are safe, and where hatchlings are not affected by human causes addressed these challenges.

Beneficiaries

Seychellois, Humanity – Being a world heritage site, all Indian Ocean islanders, people from East African countries, scientists, tourists

How do the building blocks interact?

The protection of green turtles on Aldabra was initiated through the proclamation of Aldabra Atoll as a special reserve (block 1). This legal protection was then enforced and implemented by the management authority through regular presence and patrols of the nesting beaches on the atoll (block 2). Alongside this, consistent monitoring of turtle emergences on the beaches has been conducted which provides insight into the effectiveness of the protection (block 3).

 

 

 

 

Impacts

The strict protection of Aldabra Atoll meant that any turtle exploitation and all turtle poaching activities ceased, that the coast remained undeveloped and unpolluted providing for excellent nest habitat and that the introduction of invasive predators has been minimal. Ultimately, this has resulted in an increase in the population of nesting green turtles, a species classified as a globally endangered on the IUCN redlist. Consistent and standardized monitoring of turtle emergences over the last 37 years has allowed the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF) to document the success of this solution. Aldabra now represents a successful model for effective turtle conservation for protected areas in the region and the green turtle population is a national pride for the atoll. In 2014 Aldabra became part of the Indian Ocean South-East Asian Marine Turtle Site Network in recognition of Aldabra's importance to marine turtles. Furthermore, the destructive commercial exploitation in the 1900s has now been replaced by eco-friendly tourism activities. Regular sightings of sea turtles around the atoll are one of the highlights of a visit to Aldabra, boosting tourism and in turn increasing revenue for management of the protected area. SIF is investigating the possibilities of rat and cat eradication and strict biosecurity measures are in place to prevent arrival of other invasive species.

Story

Seychelles Islands Foundation

In 2017 I began working on Aldabra Atoll as part of the research team. Upon arrival on the atoll, I was awestruck by the sheer number of green turtles swimming around the coast and in the lagoon. Growing up Mahé, Seychelles’ main island, green sea turtles are a rare and elusive sight and I had never seen one before. They are still considered as a cultural food source and a delicacy for special occasions. On Aldabra, both adult and juvenile green turtles are ubiquitous and they can be seen swimming, resting and mating. Nesting green turtles are easily encountered at night, particularly during the peak nesting time from March to May. My first encounter with a nesting female green turtle was during the daily turtle track count which is conducted to monitor turtle emergences, in order to detect trends in the nesting population. On Aldabra I’ve learnt how to measure, tag and collect biological information on green turtles. The attitude is also different; green turtles here are an emblem of conservation success and motivation for continued protection. Aside from work, I get to observe the species underwater during regular snorkelling sessions on the coral reef. The experience is unique and truly unforgettable.

Contributed by

Jennifer Appoo

Contributors

Seychelles Islands Foundation
Seychelles Islands Foundation