A partnership of organisations and universities in Grenada and the UK is expanding a pilot project looking into the challenges and threats facing sea turtles in Grenada.
Marine conservationists across the 2 countries will be working to understand more about hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas). This will include using a variety of field techniques to fully appreciate their behaviours and habitats, and ultimately, the partners hope to develop a series of measures that can be used to support the sustainable conservation of the species now and in the future here in Grenada.
Kate Charles, Marine Biologist and Project Coordinator, from Ocean Spirits Inc, said, “Grenada has the longest open legal hunting season in the Caribbean region, allowing critically endangered and endangered sea turtle species to be harvested over 25 pounds. As our surrounding islands provide legislation to protect their sea turtles all year round, these are transboundary animals that migrate between the islands in search of nesting and foraging grounds. The 2022 OMEF-funded project will provide us with the necessary data to highlight that sea turtles are a shared resource and therefore all islands should work to protect them.”
The research is being funded by the Oscar Montgomery Environmental Foundation (OMEF), a charity launched in 2020 as a legacy to a young man who was passionate about the marine environment. He died, aged just 17, and the charity set up in his memory aims to support, advocate and raise awareness of environmental issues, largely marine, and support projects and research which work to conserve and enhance the global environment. This project is particularly poignant, with Oscar having visited Grenada and the turtles with his family.
Hannah Limberger, Founder and Secretary of the Oscar Montgomery Environmental Foundation, said, “We are honoured to be supporting a project crucial for the future of critically endangered hawksbill turtles and endangered green turtles. Working with Ocean Spirits Inc and St George’s University in Grenada is something extremely close to our hearts here at OMEF, making this relationship particularly special and a perfect project for us to support. Creating lasting positive change is imperative and projects such as this are a step towards that change.”
The project will be managed collaboratively by Grenadian NGO Ocean Spirits Inc, St George’s University, School of Veterinary Medicine (Grenada, West Indies), the University of Plymouth (UK) and Dr Carter Vet, with support from the local fisherfolk in St Patrick.
The project will host University of Plymouth ResM student Naomi Westlake, who recently graduated from Plymouth’s BSc (Hons) Marine Biology programme in 2021, and who will be working closely with the leading researchers in the UK and Grenada.
Wildlife and Sea Turtle Veterinarian, Dr Kenrith Carter said, “We have a unique opportunity to get some insight into Critically endangered hawksbill turtles before they disappear completely and seeing that there is a 7-month open hunting season in Grenada, spending some of the 5-month closed season on remote offshore islands to protect nesting females from poaching can have a significant impact on the survival of the species in the region and locally. The work we do makes a significant difference not only for local sea turtle populations but regional, since our remote sites are key nesting sites and experience how levels of poaching activities, just our presence is enough to make an impact on protecting the species. This project gives us a unique opportunity to develop new less invasive methods of data collection and sampling from these marine animals, whilst documenting our nesting population sizes in the region. It takes a lot to go out into the remote field and work, but I am willing to give my time and I believe we will have an impact on the survival of the species. My long-term goal is for this data to push legislation changes in Grenada and impact people culturally to avoid even further poaching activities.”
With a combination of complementary research techniques, the team will look to identify the origin and migration corridors of Grenada’s critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles and endangered green sea turtles. This will include carrying out DNA analyses and using satellite tags to follow the movement of individual turtles, as well as monitoring nesting females and foraging populations.
Professor of Aquatic Animal Medicine Dr Dave Marancik from St George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine said, “This project is extremely valuable in expanding our efforts here in Grenada to characterise the health and status of endangered green turtles and critically endangered hawksbill turtles. As sea turtles migrate enormous distances throughout the world’s oceans, the impact of this study can potentially reach far beyond Grenada’s borders. This collaboration brings together expertise and resources from many different people who all have the common goal of supporting wildlife conservation and ensuring Grenada’s sustainability for generations to come.”
To complete the project, Westlake will then work with the team to translate and communicate this data so it can be used to inform national and regional conservation policies.