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Putting tracker on turtle - Exeter Uni Photo

Over 500 Turtles Nest in Montserrat Annually Reveals New Report

While hundreds of turtles make their way to Montserrat to trek each year, the island needs to do more to safeguard their nesting homes and improve their protection, according to the Marine Turtle Action Plan for Montserrat.

The plan, which was delivered by the Marine Conservation Society with support of a Darwin grant, offered five priority actions to be undertaken to safeguard the future of Montserrat’s turtle population.

The five high priority actions are:

  1. Systematic annual monitoring surveys and productivity assessments of in-situ and ex-situ clutches are continued.
  2. Annual data audits to be conducted to check the integrity and quality of the data being collected.
  3. Government of Montserrat to consider recommendations and amendments to legislation, including protection of critical sea
    turtle habitats.
  4. Government of Montserrat to invest in increasing local capacity and participation in marine turtle monitoring and to
    use these on-island knowledge-based resources on a more consistent basis.
  5. Establishment of a consistent community-based education focus to compliment the Action Plan Vision.
A turtle with tracker on a Montserrat beach – Exeter Uni Photo

Part of the plan included the production and release of a film in 2022 featuring local community voices. It showed how the people view and experience life with turtles. This included those who caught and ate turtles, although the appetite for this is waning, and those who want to see more robust actions taken to protect the sea creatures.

According to the report, based on counts conducted on accessible beaches over two years, “Montserrat supports around 400 – 530 green turtle nests per year. This makes it a regionally significant rookery for this species in the Eastern Caribbean. Smaller numbers of critically endangered hawksbill were documented nesting and evidence was also found of small numbers of leatherback turtle nests.”

“The majority of nesting occurs between August-September and during the 2021 and 2022 seasons, was found to be concentrated on five beaches: Woodlands Bay (30.4%), Bunkum Bay (22%), Rendezvous Bay (18.2%), Isles Bay (16.4%), and Fox’s Bay (8.4%). These beaches
are small and nest monitoring suggests several of these sites are vulnerable to coastal inundation, which is projected to worsen with climate-induced sea level rise.

“Montserrat has a tradition of artisanal use of turtles, but interview data suggest that this practice is becoming less common. Findings from the Community Voice Method (CVM) and stakeholder consultations did not support banning this practice, but did support legislative and management reforms including an extended closed season, size limits on green turtles captured, prohibition of take of nesting green turtle females and eggs, and prohibition of take of all other sea turtle species except green turtles, along with increasing the penalties for violations. It is recommended that the Turtles Act (2002) be updated through legislative amendments informed principally but not solely by the project’s CVM stakeholder deliberation process.

“Limited nesting habitat availability and sensitivity of key sites to seawater inundation is assessed to be the greatest threat to Montserrat’s turtles, and predicted to worsen under climate change. Protecting existing habitat will be key, including limiting sand removal on and around key beaches (and associated enforcement of this), preventing vegetation removal which contributes to shading and erosion limitation, and restricting development and hard engineering behind beaches which could increase light pollution and prevent inland beach expansion leading to coastal squeeze.

“The use of a hatchery/ies could be a useful marine turtle conservation tool in Montserrat, but improved husbandry/ welfare is key to hatching success alongside consideration of where these would most effectively be located.

“Satellite-tracking research revealed key inter-nesting inshore marine habitats for green turtles that warrant management and protection from potentially harmful anthropogenic activities. Stakeholder consultations also found support for protecting these inter-nesting sites through certain restrictions alongside awareness raising of “turtle-friendly” activities.

Turtle tracks on the beach – Exeter Uni Photo

“Currently, Montserrat’s Turtles Act (1951; revised 2002) legislates against any form of turtle harvesting (including eggs) during an annual closed season from 1 June to 30 September inclusive. During the open season (1 October – 30 May), any species of turtle can be captured, sold and bought as long as it weighs at least 20lbs (9.1 kg). However, there is currently no maximum size limit, and nesting turtles and their eggs can be legally taken from the beach during the open season. Offences against this act are liable to fines not exceeding XCD$48 (Turtles Act 2002).

“A robust long-term monitoring plan is needed in order to track the status of the turtle populations and to enable adaptive management. Given the limited season and focus of nesting on a few key beaches close to settlements, monitoring can be achieved with limited capacity and drawing more on the volunteer sector by focusing on a small number of key nesting beaches. Regular data audits are needed to ensure data are reliable,” read a section of the report.

During the project, the MCS team tagged 10 nesting females (nine green turtles and one hawksbill turtle). You can follow their journey on their interactive map.

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