Identification of Important Turtle Areas for green turtles in the Sulu Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion
Marine Research Foundation
Data provider Marine Research Foundation - Marine Turtle Programme Originating data center Satellite Tracking and Analysis Tool (STAT) Project partner The Marine Research Foundation is a non-profit research foundation based in Sabah, Malaysia and incorporated under the Trustees (Incorporation) Act 1951 Cap. 148. MRF was set up to increase the understanding of marine ecosystems and functions, and conserve the abundance and diversity of marine flora and fauna through research, conservation and education activities. MRF partners with numerous projects and activities, from community-based marine conservation in Papua New Guinea, industry partnerships in Dhamra, India, development of a regional action plan for the Sulu Sulawesi seas, conserving sea turtles in Qatar, and satellite tracking of turtles from the Vietnam, the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates, among others. The Foundation also supports efforts to integrate the efforts and conservation activities of the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group.
Sabah Parks is the statutory body entrusted with the management and conservation of protected areas in Sabah, Malaysia. The Vision of Sabah Parks is People of Sabah living in harmony with Nature and the Mission is To preserve areas in Sabah that contain outstanding natural values as a heritage for the benefit of the people, now and in the future. This is accomplished through six key goals:
1 : Our Parks are World Class 2 : We are the centre of excellence for Tropical Ecosystem Research 3 : Our Parks are Nature Tourism hotspots 4 : We have the most exciting Nature Education programme 5 : We are financially strong 6 : There is symbiotic harmony between us and all our stakeholders
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources was established through the enactment of Act No. 2666 by the Philippine Commission, otherwise known as An Act to Re-organize the Executive Department of the Government of the Philippine Islands, on 18 November 1916. The Biodiversity Management Bureau (formerly the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau) is entrusted with safeguarding the amazing biological resources of the country. The Vision of BMB is “a perpetual existence of biological and physical diversities in a system of protected areas and other important biological components of the environment managed by a well-informed and empowered citizenry for the sustainable use and enjoyment of present and future generations”. BMB’s Mission is to conserve the country's biological diversity through (1) the establishment, management and development of the National Integrated Protected Areas System; (2) the conservation of wildlife resources; and (3) nature conservation information and education. Project sponsor or sponsor description The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has been implementing projects to promote economic, ecological and social development in the Philippines on behalf of the German Government since the 1970s. Our main commissioning parties are the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). Commissions also come from international clients including the European Union, the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.
Our work in the Philippines concentrates on the areas of peace and security, the environment, rural development and climate change. Several regional programmes are also based in the Philippines and are managed by GIZ from Manila. These include programmes supporting biodiversity conservation in the ASEAN area. One of these is the Sulu Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion project.
Only a few regions in the world are as rich in species as the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME). It is part of the Coral Triangle region in the Pacific that spans a total of 640 million hectares between Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands. The natural resources of the region are exposed to considerable risk as a result of severe over-exploitation due to population growth, destructive fishing practices, rapid coastal development and other human activities. This situation is further exacerbated by climate change and its impacts, such as the rise in water temperatures and sea level, ocean acidification and an increase in the intensity and frequency of storms.
The action plan of the SSME states of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines highlights the global importance and unique nature of the marine region in terms of biodiversity and natural resources.
Pilcher N. 2021. Identification of Important Turtle Areas for green turtles in the Sulu Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion. Data downloaded from OBIS-SEAMAP (http://seamap.env.duke.edu/dataset/1300) on yyyy-mm-dd and originated from Satellite Tracking and Analysis Tool (STAT; http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/index.shtml?project_id=1114).
Marine turtles are important components of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion, (SSME). Green turtles are important for maintaining healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs. Without constant grazing, seagrass beds may become overgrown, obstructing currents, shading the bottom, or decomposing. Seagrass beds in turn are nurseries for a number of species of commercial fish and crustaceans, including shrimp. On coral reefs, green turtles crop algae that can compete with corals. Hawksbill turtles control the population of sponges in coral reefs, which can easily out-compete corals for the same space. Through selective foraging, hawksbill turtles are able to impact the overall reef diversity. Leatherback turtles eat large quantities amounts of jellyfish, helping to keep their populations under control. Jellyfish prey on larval fish, many species of which are economically important to humans. Loggerhead turtles are known to help recirculate sediments on the seabed and distribute nutrients while they search for, and feed on, crustaceans and molluscs. On the beach, unhatched eggs, trapped hatchlings, and egg shells provide nutrients for beach vegetation, which secures the sand via root development. The loss of beach vegetation can lead to erosion, minimizing sea turtle nesting habitat, among others, but also reducing coastal resilience.
These same, ecologically important, marine turtles are threatened through ongoing egg harvests, poaching of adults by foreign fishing fleets, and as by-catch in shrimp and fish trawl fisheries. Work by the Marine Research Foundation (www.mrf-asia.org) estimated bycatch of turtles from the Sabah shrimp fleets alone at several thousand turtles each year. Recent reports by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development and the Biodiversity Management Bureau (Philippines) have recorded several instances where Chinese fishing vessels have been apprehended with hundreds of adult and large juvenile turtles, and poaching in Malaysia and in Indonesia is on the rise. Another cause for concern lies a continued lack of knowledge of the biology and ecology of the turtles in many parts of the SSME - turtles spend 98% of their time at sea, but virtually all conservation efforts in the SSME only occur on land.
The conservation of sea turtles is thus a key priority in the SSME. Sulu-Sulawesi turtles are recognised at both National and Regional levels, and even globally: turtles are similarly a priority under the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Sea Turtles and their Habitats (IOSEA MoU), the Coral Reef Triangle (CTI) Regional Action Plan, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Sea Turtle MoU. At the National level sea turtles are completely protected in all three countries bordering the SSME. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) lists marine turtles occurring in the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA) on Appendix I, while the World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists the green turtle as Endangered, and the hawksbill as Critically Endangered. The turtles nesting in the TIHPA area were included in the top-ten priority listing for conservation by the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, and as such are among priority focus areas of this conservation initiative.
A network of protected areas to enhance sea turtle conservation in the Sulu Sulawesi was endorsed by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in 2010. The network was designed to link nesting turtles with development grounds, migration corridors and adult feeding grounds. Within the network, the most important nesting site for green and hawksbill turtles is the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA), a complex of nine islands shared by Malaysia and the Philippines. Thousands of turtles come to lay eggs on these islands each year, and they represent a valuable food and tourism commodity to local people and governments. But tailored conservation action relies on a thorough understanding of turtle population biology and ecology. One needs to know where turtles are in order to protect them. We need to know where they go as they disperse from nesting beaches, and where they grow up. We need to understand the relationship between nesting adults and developing populations, in order to understand the linkages among the various stocks.
This project entails four inter-linked components to further the understanding of the biology and ecology of sea turtles in the SSME, upon which National policy decisions and the expansion of the Tri-National Network of Protected Areas may be based. Each component addresses critical biological and reproductive traits of turtles which have previously not been studied in the SSME, and together they form a cohesive research programme which complements National projects within the Sulu Sulawesi Tri-National Sea Turtle Corridor initiative.
We are conducting laparoscopy and genetic studies to determine population structure through mixed stock analysis; tracking studies of post nesting female to determine foraging ground locations (this project component), and determining temporal habitat use in key foraging grounds in the SSME via aerial surveys.
This project component will allow us to decipher the migration paths of marine turtles and linkages between foraging and nesting populations within the important Sulu-Sulawesi biogeographic region, and to raise awareness of the importance of marine turtle populations, and will track twenty post-nesting adult turtles as they depart from their nesting sites to determine the location of subsequent feeding zones and migratory routes using satellite technology.
Data resulting from this work will inform managers of critical in–water habitats utilised by SSME turtles, and allow them to aim concerted conservation activities, including fishery regulation where applicable, to preserve turtles through all phases of their live cycle.
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