Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan for Belize

Smith, Gregory W. and Eckert, Karen L. and Gibson, Janet P. (1992) Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan for Belize. Technical Report.

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    There can be little doubt that sea turtles were once a prominent component of the fishing industry in Belize. Thousands of turtles were exported live from Belize in the late 1800's, in addition to those utilized domestically. In the early 1900's, as the value of tortoiseshell (hawksbill sea turtle shell) increased, the fishery concentrated on hawksbills in the southern cays. The shell industry was a profitable one, supporting at least two large schooners based at Tobacco Cay. There was no concern about the effect of the harvest on the resource. Indeed, in 1925 the Handbook of British Honduras described the number of sea turtles around Belize's cays as "inexhaustible". By the 1960's, however, it was clear that a century of uncontrolled harvest had left local populations greatly depleted. In 1977, Fisheries Regulations were enacted to protect small juveniles, eggs, and nesting females; the hunting of turtles was prohibited between 1 June-31 August and the export of sea turtles and sea turtle products was banned. The new restrictions were an improvement over the former situation, but were inadequate to promote the recovery of declining stocks. Older fishermen attest to serious declines in the numbers of sea turtles during their lifetimes. Catch per unit effort has dropped and turtles are considerably smaller than they were as recently as a decade ago. Fisheries data indicate that the average weight of turtles landed fell 60% (from 163 to 67 kg) between 1982 and 1986. Not only are turtles fewer and smaller at sea, there are many examples of beaches that once supported nesting populations, but do so no longer. Today fewer than a dozen fishermen formally participate in the turtle fishery, and none relies on the turtles for a primary source of income. The authors estimate that 500-800 turtles, mostly adults, are legally sold in the markets each year. The clandestine catch is unquantified. Five species of sea turtle are reported from the waters of Belize, but only three -- hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), green (Chelonia mydas), and loggerhead (Caretta caretta) -- are routinely encountered. Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) and Kemp's ridleys (Lepidochelys kempi) are very rare. Nesting is reported on more than 30 cays, as well as at some mainland sites, but only three nesting concentrations are known. Each year, 40-70 loggerhead nests are laid on Ambergris Cay, 30-40 hawksbill nests are laid on the southernmost cays along the barrier reef, and 100-150 hawksbill nests are laid at Manatee Bar beach on the mainland. There are no known concentrations of green turtles; probably fewer than 20 nest each year. Foraging habitat is extensive along the 220 km barrier reef and around the numerous offshore cays. The primary threats to sea turtles in Belize are the continued harvest of adults and large juveniles, the incidental catch of turtles in trawls and other fishing gear, nesting beach development, and the degradation of foraging grounds by anchoring, dredging, waste disposal, and pollution. A lack of enforcement capacity hinders efforts to conserve remaining populations. Large numbers of turtles are captured illegally (below minimum size and/or during the closed season). The collection of eggs (illegal at all times) has been estimated to be as high as 10,000 per year. The illegal export of hawksbill shell is believed to occur clandestinely at low levels and tortoiseshell jewelry is widely available to residents and tourists. Incidental capture and drowning in shrimp trawls, gill nets, and longlines is also a problem, with hundreds of turtles potentially captured in this manner every year.

    Item Type: Technical Reports (Technical Report)
    Related URLs:
    Unique ID or DOI: 18
    Publisher: Widecast
    Keywords: sea turtles, recovery, action plan, Belize,
    Subjects: (A) Biodiversity > (AI) Reptiles > (AIB) Marine
    (F) People and the Environment > (FB) Resource Use
    (Z) Other or Unspecified
    Publication Sources: (3) Other Source > (3D) Other or Unspecified
    Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2010 06:00
    Last Modified: 28 Feb 2011 11:49

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