Millenium Watch: Fresh Hope for the Sea Turtle
Robert Bazil The Chronicle November 1998
Several former sea turtle hunters on Guyana's Atlantic beaches have been converted to turtle protectors, tagging the endangered creatures to keep track of them, thanks to a group of foreign and local conservationist currently running a special project in the villages here, mostly in the North West District.
Millennium Watch spoke with Dr. Peter Pritchard of the Chelonian Research Institute of Florida, and others behind the 30-year mission to try and save the sea turtle through self-education.
To many, it may seem a waste of time because Guyana is only a small country in the fight.
But Dr. Pritchard explained that turtles from the Guianas usually swim to West Africa, Venezuela, New York, Texas and other places. They can swim at a tremendous rate, he says.
This valuable information was confirmed when Arawaks from Moruka in the North West District tagged the turtles. They would later recognise the mother when she comes back to nest.
People, thousands of miles away, would find these sea turtles and send back the tag to Guyana so that the conservationists will have some idea of the migratory journeys undertaken by the animals. To boost the sea turtle population here, the group is establishing an Arawak staff village near Waini Point.
Millennium Watch understands that, initially, the conservationists had tried to protect the dwindling population through governmental action; the introduction of game wardens; and having people arrested for breaking laws. This proved to be inappropriate.
Eventually, they started to talk with and form relationships with the people who were killing the sea turtles. This approach was met with an overwhelming response and both sides realised they had common ground. This led to the development of a protection programme involving the people who know turtles well - the villagers.
To boost the conservation efforts in Guyana, 'Discovery Channel Canada' has made a 25-minute documentary about the project. This will be sold in Canada beginning this month and subsequently distributed to various American broadcasting stations.
The conservationists have not yet achieved complete success but Dr. Pritchard maintains that their goal is to try and ensure that turtles coming ashore to leave eggs, go back to the sea alive.
The group must also be complimented for their efforts at providing protection so that the sea turtle eggs are safe and are allowed to hatch. The long-term objective is to get the turtle population back up to where it should be.
And speaking about turtle eggs, which are very nutritious, it is proposed that a controlled set of eggs on the beaches will be used for human consumption.
This is done very successfully in Suriname where the beaches have very large nesting colonies.
Because the beaches shift and get washed out by the tides, the Surinamese authorities would declare certain eggs to be 'doomed eggs' - doomed to be washed out before they can hatch and therefore nature's natural wastage can be taken for human consumption.
If the programme in Guyana goes well, in a few years it will create a perfect balance in the food chain, and man and turtle will find space to survive side by side.
Once Guyanese are educated enough not to kill sea turtles, they will eventually see the benefits because quite a lot of eggs are laid too high and can be taken for human consumption.
The trend is not devastating, and at that stage turtles can feed a lot of people - with their eggs, the conservationists point out.
Millennium Watch learned that there should be four or five nestlings in a night, but on some nights there are none, or just one or two.
The project here is in the first years of a three-year funding programme and educational mission by the British High Commission. In the sea turtle conservation fight, are: Conservation International (CI), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace; Fish Wildlife Service; Conservational Food and Health Foundation; Educational Foundation of American and private institutions.
Also to be commended are local conservationists such as Ms. Elke Rodrigues of the Santa Rosa Community in the North West District. United States Ambassador to Guyana, Mr. James Mack and Mrs. Mack hosted the conservationists recently and congratulated the various groups for their work.