While the ecology and movements of nesting adults are well studied as they are easily monitored at nesting sites where they can be tagged and tracked, the habitat use and movements of juveniles are understudied, as turtles spend their development years in-water.
In order to shed some more light on the presence and distribution of both juvenile and male turtles, the Turtle Village Trust (http://www.turtlevillagetrust.org), a civil society organisation that promotes sustainable development of local communities through turtle conservation, engaged ERIC to assist in filling this knowledge gap.
Every month, ERIC along with its team of trained community-based field technicians (CBFTs), will survey eight reef sites – four in northeast Tobago and four in the southwest region from May to September, to collect data on all turtles encountered. Data including species, estimated carapace length, gender, distinguishing markings, behaviour and environmental conditions will be recorded.
Twelve surveys have been completed to date in different weather and sea conditions. From blistering sun to heavy rains and calm dive conditions to drift dive environments, a total of 36 hawksbill and green turtles have been sighted. They were observed either resting, feeding or swimming past us.
Hawksbill and green turtles have vastly different diets, which also influence the habitat they frequently visit. Hawksbills are omnivorous, feeding on sponges, algae, fishes and crustaceans (although sponges may constitute 75-90% of their diet), all of which are found on coral reefs. In contrast, the diet of a green turtle changes as it matures: as juveniles they are carnivorous, before gradually shifting to a predominantly herbivorous diet as adults, feeding on algae and seagrasses.
The participating CBFTs have already been actively involved in turtle conservation within Charlotteville and Speyside for many years, through their respective community-based organisations. Welldon Mapp and Kimron Eastman are members of North East Sea Turtles while Susan Suchit and Zolani Frank represent Speyside Eco Marine Park Rangers. ERIC’s commitment to continually train and involve community members in all research and monitoring activities means that our CBFTs’ knowledge of sea turtle behaviour is further enhanced, and consequently so too is their potential to derive income from conservation-related activities.
The data collected by ERIC through continuous monitoring will contribute towards better understanding of the use of Tobago’s marine environment by these extraordinary animals, and inform Tobago’s management and conservation strategies to better protect them.