The new measures are reasonable, proportionate, and will help protect our turtle resource.
After five years of working alongside the fishermen and authorities of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in the Caribbean, the Marine Conservation Society is celebrating a safer future for sea turtles.
Changes to the laws that regulate the traditional turtle fishery in TCI, a British Overseas Territory, will now be put into effect, based on a plan developed by MCS and its partners.
Conservation gains in the new sustainable fishery management plan include improved restrictions on the size of turtles that can be caught to allow more mature animals to breed.
This will contribute to the recovery of turtle populations breeding in TCI, which have declined in recent decades.
A 'fine balance' between local needs and conservation
MCS research revealed that up to 700 green and hawksbill turtles were being caught every year as part of the legal, traditional turtle fishery in the TCI.
Peter Richardson, MCS Biodiversity Programme Manager, explained that a "fine balance" had to be struck. "We couldn't say stop fishing as this fishery is the livelihood of so many.
"So we had to find ways to educate fishermen that size really does matter - and restrictions on taking the large and breeding turtles would ensure the long-term future of the fishery and their jobs."
The project team listened closely to people working in the traditional turtle fishery - and spent many hours on the fishing grounds carrying out cutting-edge research, including genetic analysis and satellite tracking turtles, to be better understand how the islands' turtles could continue to be fished whilst ensuring better conservation.
Talking turtle - film stimulates dialogue
Amdeep Sanghera, a social scientist with MCS, spent two years living in South Caicos and working with local government project partners at the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources and Duke University in North Carolina to create a film: "Talking Turtle in the Big South" - a reference to the local name for South Caicos.
It looked at how the community viewed turtles and their management and featured interviews with local community members giving their opinions on the fishery.
The film was then screened all over the islands from bars to beach huts and back yards with the ensuing discussions captured by the Project team analysed and considered in the final turtle fishery management recommendations.
"Working in this way - combining biological research and local engagement - was new to MCS and to the TCI. So we're delighted that the time and innovative efforts we took has turned into such a positive result", says Dr Richardson.
Key conservation gains
Key recommendations that have been taken forward and will become law include
- prohibition on export of turtle products from the islands;
- a ban on catching the other marine turtle species that may be found in Caribbean waters including the leatherback, loggerhead, Kemp's and olive ridley turtle species;
- gear restrictions so that green and hawksbills turtles can only be caught by hand; and
- a requirement to land captured turtles alive, allowing the live release of under and over-sized turtles.
TCI's Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs will ensure that fishermen comply with the new legislation. DEMA Director Kathleen Wood, says she's delighted that the TCI Cabinet has approved these regulations.
"The way MCS and partners worked diligently with our fishermen over several years to develop these recommendations was very welcome, and means that the new measures are reasonable, proportionate, and will help protect our turtle resource."
"We are looking to use the same stakeholder engagement methods to address other pressing marine conservation issues here in TCI."
The TCI Turtle Project includes MCS, DEMA and the University of Exeter. It was set up to protect the vital breeding adult turtles in the region by developing, in consultation with local communities, a sustainable fishery management plan.