In 2011, green sea turtles laid a staggering 1.44 million eggs on just one island in the Philippines thanks to conservation efforts, breaking all previous records.
A record for the roaming reptiles
The graceful and enigmatic green turtle faces a variety of threats globally, and as a result is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Yet there is some good news for this marine reptile, as Conservation International (CI) announces that the species has laid a record number of eggs on a small island in the Philippines.
Since 1984, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has kept records of nesting activity on Baguan Island in the southern Philippines, one of nine islands forming the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA), a unique sanctuary jointly managed by Malaysia and the Philippines. The DENR has reported that a grand total of 14,220 green turtle nests were counted in 2011, breaking the previous record of 12,311 set in 1995.
Country Executive Director for CI in the Philippines, Romeo Trono, was astonished at the news, “1.44 million eggs is an astounding number for a nesting beach that’s only a little over 1 kilometre in length. This presents great hope for boosting green turtle populations. With an average of 90% hatching success and 1% survival rate up to sexual maturity, Baguan in 2011 alone could contribute up to 13,000 to the adult turtle population.”
Not always so rosy
The latest nesting figures provide some good news for conservationists, as the situation on Baguan Island hasn’t always been so positive. Nest numbers have been declining in recent years, and dropped to an all-time low in 2003 with a total of just 4,000 nests counted that year.
These declines have been attributed to a variety of factors including harvesting by local communities for food and trade, the disturbance and destruction of habitat through the use of illegal fishing methods such as cyanide fishing, and poaching by foreign fishermen. With a lack of court on the Turtle Islands, law enforcement has also been blamed for the decline in turtle numbers and egg production.
CI has been working with the Philippines’ DENR, the local government and the Malaysian Sabah Parks since 2007, and has advised on the implementation of marine conservation strategies in the region. This collaboration has resulted in the creation of a strict protection zone and no take areas, as well as strengthened law enforcement through training schemes for law enforcers and volunteers.
The results have been pleasing, “The increasing nest numbers show that when turtles are protected on their nesting beaches and in the water for long enough, they will recover,” says Dr Bryan Wallace, Director of Science for the Marine Flagship Species Program at CI. “The Turtle Islands are a globally important area for green turtles, especially for the West Pacific population, because of the relatively high abundance present and because of increasing protections for turtles in the area.”
With other beaches in the region being lost to coastal development, Dr Nicolas Pilcher, director of Sabah-based Marine Research Foundation and Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group, acknowledged the huge role that the recent bold protection measures have played in improving population numbers.
The close links between marine life in the area mean that the protection being afforded to the green turtles on Baguan Island could have a positive effect on the turtle population of the entire region, as well as securing the future of the marine ecosystem which they inhabit.
Mr Trono remains positive about the futures of the green turtles which visit Baguan Island, “The hatchlings that emerge from the Turtle Islands still face great risks throughout their lives as they journey through the ocean, but at least here in the Turtle Islands, we are determined to provide them with a good start.”
Read more on this story at Conservation International – Sea turtle baby boom on Turtle Islands breaks 28-year record.
Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author