Protecting the breeders: research informs legislative change in a marine turtle fishery

Abstract

Marine turtles are sensitive to harvesting because of life-cycle traits such as longevity, late maturity and natal philopatry. The take of nesting females is of conservation concern because they are key to population maintenance and has led to global efforts to protect this life stage. In the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI; a UK Overseas Territory in the Caribbean), previous turtle fishery legislation protected nesting turtles on the beach but not in the water, where turtles over a minimum size were subject to legal take. In a 2-year study, we undertook nesting beach and in-water surveys, molecular analyses, satellite tracking and collation of fisheries landing data to investigate the populations of green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles in the TCI and its turtle fishery. Adults were frequently taken in one of the region’s largest legal and artisanal turtle fisheries. We suggest that nesting populations in the TCI, which contain genetically unique haplotypes, have diminished since the 1980s, likely as a result of the harvest of adults. Using these multiple lines of evidence, we highlight the inadequacies of the former fishery regulations and propose specific legislative amendments, which, as a result of this study, were implemented on 1 July 2014 by the TCI government. With good enforcement, these measures will protect adults breeding in the TCI and those from nesting rookeries in the region that use the waters of the TCI, improve the management of this fishery, and safeguard fisher livelihoods.

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Acknowledgments

This work was a collaborative Project between the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs, TCI (DEMA: formerly the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources, DECR); Marine Conservation Society, UK; University of Exeter, UK; Duke University, USA; and The School for Field Studies, Center for Marine Resource Studies, TCI (SFS). It was established in November 2008 to assess marine turtle populations and their use in the TCI with a view to improving the management of the Islands’ turtle fishery. This work would not have been possible without the assistance and cooperation of the fishing community. We thank the following people for their help with aspects of this work: gonad morphology: Jeannette Wyneken, Matthew Godfrey, David Owens; Genetics: Carlos Carreras, Angela Formia, Alberto Abreu-Grobois, ALan Rees, Michelle Hares, Paul Wilkinson, Brian Shamblin; GIS and modelling: Matt Witt, Kim Stokes, Kristian Metcalfe; Fieldwork: Marta Calosso, John Claydon, Flora Kent, SFS staff and students. TBS was funded by a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) CASE PhD studentship, with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) as CASE partners (Ref: NE/F01385X/1). MCS, Simon and Anne Notley, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Chelonia Group provided additional financial support. DEMA and SFS gave in-country support.

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Correspondence to Thomas B. Stringell.

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Communicated by Angus Jackson.

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Stringell, T.B., Clerveaux, W.V., Godley, B.J. et al. Protecting the breeders: research informs legislative change in a marine turtle fishery. Biodivers Conserv 24, 1775–1796 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-015-0900-1

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Keywords

  • Turks and Caicos Islands
  • UK overseas territories
  • Marine turtle harvest
  • Nesting phenology
  • mtDNA haplotypes
  • Satellite tracking