Year of the Turtle kicks off with Call for Cooperation

2006 – Time for Countries and Communities to Take a Stand for the Globe’s Threatened Sea Turtles

Year of the Turtle kicks off with Call for Cooperation for ‘Our Ocean’s Ambassadors’

Bangkok, 1 March 2006--An international campaign to conserve sea turtles, uniting people from Australia to Thailand and from Iran to the Seychelles, was launched today.

Under the banner of the ‘Year of the Turtle – 2006’, the organizers aim to spotlight the threats and encourage even greater public support for these extraordinary marine creatures.

The Indian Ocean – South-East Asia region is home to six different species of marine turtles whose populations have declined in the past decades, some to the point of extinction.

In Malaysia, for example, annual counts of leatherback turtle nests have dropped alarmingly from 5,000 in the 1960s to less than ten in recent years. Elsewhere, illegal turtle harvests continue to occur. Last week in Indonesia, police apprehended a fishing boat off of Bali carrying 158 Green turtles, most of which were safely released back into the wild.

The new campaign has been organised by the Secretariat of the Indian Ocean – South-East Asia (IOSEA) Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which is linked to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It is being undertaken in collaboration with Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.

The Year of the Turtle involves a series of public events and activities in 25 countries of the region throughout 2006 under the banner “Cooperating to Conserve Marine Turtles: Our Ocean’s Ambassadors”.

A key part of the campaign will be to unite distant communities in a common cause. For example primary school children in Australia are developing a new turtle education guide, special beach and reef clean-ups are being organised in Thailand, researchers in Iran are tagging turtles to help track their movements, and underwater film festivals are planned in the Seychelles to raise public awareness of the marine environment.

“Many nations are already working hard to conserve these remarkable animals, by protecting important habitats and requiring changes to fishing practices that are harmful to turtles. The Year of the Turtle celebration will recognize the important role of sea turtles in the marine environment, as well as their significant cultural value for people in many countries” said Douglas Hykle, IOSEA MoU Coordinator.

In a statement read out during the launch, Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado of Japan emphasised the need for even more cooperation between countries to ensure the survival of these highly migratory animals.

“Sea turtles are modern ambassadors of our oceans, linking countries and communities around the world. They are many things to many people: a traditional source of food, the basis of livelihoods centred on sustainable tourism, a focus of investigative research, or simply an enduring source of inspiration and awe. We all have a common interest in their conservation,” she said.

Accidental killing of sea turtles in fishing gear, damage to turtle nesting beaches and coral reefs, and unsustainable consumption are among the major threats they face.

Natural disasters, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, have also taken a toll. A draft report discussed at the launch reveals that the tsunami had a profound impact on local communities that had been working closely with turtle conservation projects in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The process of rebuilding these bonds has gradually begun.

India’s remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, home to about 500 nesting leatherback turtles, were especially hard hit by the tsunami, which occurred during the peak of the nesting season.

The tsunami destroyed several nesting beaches and inundated many coastal areas with sea water. “In the short-term, thousands of unhatched turtle eggs would have been destroyed” said Dr. Mark Hamann, compiler of the IOSEA leatherback-tsunami assessment, “but the impacts of the tsunami need to be viewed over a longer time scale. Leatherback turtles have been breeding in the region for thousands of years, and will have survived similar natural calamities in the past.”

Elsewhere, there is evidence to show that conservation efforts are succeeding, with some areas reporting increased sea turtle populations – but there is still much work to do.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said: “In 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, governments agreed to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010. Turtles are in many ways flagship species. If we can conserve turtles we can do a lot for other marine life forms and thus help the world meet the 2010 target. I wish the organizers and those involved every success”.

The Year of the Turtle will run through 31 December 2006, with events planned at country and local levels throughout the Indian Ocean – South-East Asia region.

Note to Editors:

The IOSEA Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding, is an intergovernmental agreement concluded under the auspices of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which puts in place a framework for states of the region to work together to conserve marine turtles and their habitats. The agreement has nearly 25 Signatory States stretching from Jordan to Australia, and South Africa to the Philippines. For more information, visit: www.ioseaturtles.org.

The member States of the IOSEA Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding will gather in Muscat, Oman, from 11-14 March 2006 to discuss the draft Leatherback-tsunami assessment report, and to review progress in implementing a comprehensive region-wide Conservation and Management Plan.

Year of the Turtle campaign activities already underway include preparation by Australian primary students of an educational book about turtles; a two-day Koh Tao (Turtle Island) Underwater Festival for divers in Thailand; a “Turtle Witness Camp” to monitor mass nesting of Olive ridley turtles in Orissa, India; tagging of Hawksbill turtles that nest on Shidvar Island, Iran; and special beach patrols and education for local communities in Tanzania. For more information visit the online Events Calendar: www.ioseaturtles.org/yot2006/

Both the Indian and Pacific Oceans are home to significant nesting, foraging and breeding habitats for marine turtles. The IOSEA Year of the Turtle campaign coincides with the launch of a sister campaign in the Pacific Ocean, coordinated by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) in Apia, Samoa. For more information on the SPREP campaign contact: Mr. Lui Bell, SPREP Marine Species Officer, at: LuiB@sprep.org.

For more information:

Mr. Douglas Hykle, IOSEA MoU Coordinator/CMS Senior Advisor, Tel: + (66 2) 288 1471 or

+ (66 2) 288 2440; E-mail: yot2006@un.org

Ms. Satwant Kaur, UNEP Regional Information Officer, Tel: + (66 2) 288 2127; E-mail: kaur@un.org


 

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