Stray domestic animals, especially dogs, are a great threat to sea turtles hatchlings. Photo: Courtesy Roddy Macías
February 7, 2021 – 06h00
Degradation of nesting sites and marine habitats, artificial lighting, use of vehicles on beaches, pollution, fishing activities, domestic animals and climate change are some of the threats faced by sea turtles on the 17 beaches where they spawn in the country.
All these problems are registered in the update of the Action Plan for the Conservation of Sea Turtles in Ecuador 2020-2030 prepared jointly by the Wild Aid organization, the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ) and the Ministry of Environment and Water (MAAE) .
According to the document, there are five species of sea turtles registered in Ecuador:
- Green or black
- Leatherback or lute
- Loggerhead or bighead.
They all have some degree of threat.
For example, the nesting beaches of the green turtle in the Galapagos are, for the most part, within the Galapagos National Park, but the growth of the populated centers generates light pollution and alteration in areas where the nests are, especially in Isabela.
Tourism also has consequences, the report details. The presence of lights is more and more frequent and it is “almost impossible to find a dark beach,” and it has been reported that a single spotlight can cause a “great impact” on hatchlings of sea turtles.
The rapid urbanization of the coastal strip is also a serious problem. In the last 20 years the coastal strip to the south of the Machalilla National Park (PNM), where nesting of sea turtles has been reported, has been subdivided for vacation homes and inns.
In the vicinity of the Mompiche, Esmeraldas area, where olive ridley turtles nest, a tourist complex has been built and the sector is experiencing accelerated urban development.
The plan adds that the construction of seawalls on the beaches has limited nesting habitat and increased pollution.
On the beach of Puerto López, Manabí, the construction of the boardwalk decreased 15 meters of spawning habitat by almost two kilometers and, in addition, led to the construction of kiosks on the beach, further reducing the space for nests.
1,200 turtle nests have been identified throughout the country’s coastal strip. Photo: Courtesy Roddy Macías
Another aspect is marine litter. Plastic covers, remains of gillnets, and residues such as straws are the main problem, as turtles ingest them or become entangled and suffocate.
Furthermore, small-scale fisheries severely impact turtle populations. Many become entangled in fishing gear and drown or suffer skull fractures when struck by fishermen in order to remove them from the nets. They also have hooks in their intestines, stomach or esophagus.
The Center for the Rehabilitation of Marine Fauna, until 2018, received a total of 306 turtles with several of these affectations.
The feral domestic animals that roam the beaches are another problem to control, since they eat the eggs or hatchlings. Although this has been neutralized in several locations thanks to the intervention of environmental organizations, says Roddy Macías, a Wild Aid technician.
It indicates that despite all these threats, in 2020 and so far this year there has been an increase in turtle nesting in the country. The reduction in human activities due to the pandemic could be one of the reasons.
He says that 1,200 turtle nests have been located, protected and marked nationwide. Although there are problems, according to Macías, Ecuador has been a “regional benchmark in turtle protection” since 2014.
He adds that one of the objectives of the plan is to generate public policy, not only from ministries, but also from councils to increase the protection of turtles. The preparation of the document took more than a year.
The aim is that, in ten years, the conservation status of the species will be improved through the protection of nests, threat reduction, public awareness, generation of data for decision-making, among others.
“It is important that we address a strategy as a country, not just a ministry or municipality. It is up to all of us to save these species. The plan also includes possible solutions to the threats,” says Macías.
An evaluation of the evolution of the plan is expected in five years. Wild Aid will assist in its implementation. (I)