Loggerhead turtle conservation efforts bear fruit

There is much cause for celebration as we enter 2016 with news that the global conservation status of loggerhead turtles has improved from “endangered” to “vulnerable”, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  

The South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), based at uShaka Marine World, has played an integral part in a number of conservation projects that support the southern African populations of these turtles, which lay their eggs on the beaches of northern KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique.

Well-known turtle expert Dr George Hughes started his PhD research on South East African sea turtles in 1969, when he was based at SAAMBR’s Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI). His work resulted in one of the longest-running (and still currently active) conservation projects on the continent; that of protecting the nesting beaches of loggerhead turtles along the east coast of southern Africa.

Aquarists Leanna Botha and Malini Pather with a loggerhead turtle in the aquarium

ORI scientists also contributed to the identification and declaration of the St Lucia and Maputaland Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Not only do these MPAs offer protection to the loggerhead and leatherback turtle nests found on their beaches, but they also secure core populations of many other marine species.

ORI scientists have also been actively involved in protecting turtles offshore. In the early 2000s, Dr Sean Fennessy and his colleagues noted with concern the numbers of sharks, rays and turtles that were being caught by the shallow-water prawn trawling fishery in the region. Research on ways in which to decrease this bycatch was initiated, and successful trials with a “turtle exclusion device” (TED) were conducted in Mozambique in 2005. 

Due to consumer pressure from countries to which prawns are exported, legislation requiring the use of TEDs in prawn trawler nets has been passed and is being enforced in Mozambique and Madagascar.

Besides ORI’s research activities, SAAMBR’s uShaka Sea World division has an international reputation for successfully rehabilitating turtles that have stranded on KwaZulu-Natal and Cape beaches.

Sea World releases rehabilitated turtles out at sea

In order to increase their populations to sustainable levels, the survival of every turtle is important, and uShaka Sea World strives to rehabilitate as many turtles as possible, while endeavouring to bring the plight of the turtles to the attention of their guests through appropriate educational displays.

Even though the turtles' conservation status has improved, the IUCN has made it clear that the survival of the 10 sub-populations of loggerhead turtles will continue to be dependent on intense conservation efforts into the foreseeable future. Loggerhead turtles are exposed to many and varied threats, and consequently conservation efforts have to be tailored to address these. 

SAAMBR is proud of its contribution to the conservation of these iconic marine animals to date, and pledges to continue to play an active role in their preservation. Everyone can play a small part in this conservation effort, by placing litter in the bin (thereby reducing the chance of turtles accidently swallowing plastic, which they mistake for jellyfish), and by actively supporting the maintenance South Africa’s MPAs, which in turn protect the homes of our incredibly diverse marine life.

Visit these graceful marine animals in our Turtle Lagoon at Sea World in Durban.

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