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New Year Starts Off Right for Sea Turtles

A look at WWF’s sea turtle conservation work happening around the globe in early 2014

flatback swimming

A rare flatback turtle.

A sanctuary for nesting created

Leatherbacks and hawksbills will benefit from Colombia’s recent decision to protect an important nesting area along its Caribbean coastline. Beach degradation, pollution and egg harvesting are all threats to nesting turtles. For nearly 10 years, WWF has been working to see such a declaration come to pass. The turtle sanctuary will prohibit development along the beach and the government will provide funding for nest monitoring.

Widespread awareness to reduce bycatch

WWF launched an awareness campaign across the entire Adriatic Sea to reduce turtle bycatch in longline fisheries. As fishing gear is the greatest threat to most turtle species, and in particular, loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean, fishermen play a critical role in reducing bycatch. WWF is informing fishermen in important ports in countries along the Adriatic coast (Italy, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro and Slovenia) about the on-board best practices to release caught turtles and thereby reduce deaths.

digging hole for sea turtle device

WWF and local nest monitors install a screen-like device to keep predators out of sea turtle nests.

Gillnet deterrents spread east

WWF will pilot a device that illuminates gillnets to prevent turtles from becoming entangled in them in a popular nesting area in Indonesia. The 2011 International Smart Gear Competition selected the device—called ‘Turtle Lights for Gillnets’—as one of the winning ideas to address the threat of fishing gear to turtles. The design uses LED or chemical lightsticks to illuminate gillnets, which helps turtles to see the nets and avoid becoming entangled in them. Subsequent trials of this device in Mexico and Peru have had impressive results, with bycatch reduction rates of up to 60%.

Keeping those giant lizards away

Australia’s eastern beaches near the Great Barrier Reef support nesting populations of endangered loggerheads. But over the past few years, predators—such as monitor lizards—are decimating as many as 80-90% of turtle nests, which is a blow to these fragile populations.

WWF partnered with local nest monitors and the Queensland government to test the effectiveness of a screen-like device to keep predators from reaching eggs and hatchlings. So far the device appears to be working, but studies still need to be done during peak hatchling period. We’re hoping this device will give loggerhead hatchlings the best chance of survival to reach the water’s edge.

Tracking the mysterious turtle

Very little is known about the flatback sea turtle, except that it is only found in waters between southern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia, and only nests on Australia’s northern coast. Scientists still need to learn about their migration pathways, diets, foraging grounds and health.

To help fill the knowledge gap, WWF is working with Queensland volunteers, government scientists and the indigenous community to track flatbacks on their journey between nesting beaches and feeding grounds. Four turtles were fitted with satellite transmitters last November, and as of Dec. 31, have remained close to Australia’s northern shore. You can monitor the turtles’ movements here.

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