Bio Conservation Society (BCS), Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Bycatch is a major threat to all five species of marine turtles that nest and/or forage in Sri Lankan territories (Ekanayake et al., 2015). Fishing communities on the north-west coast of Sri Lanka depend on seasonal, artisanal gill net fisheries targeting pelagic shoaling fish. Previous studies have revealed that these fisheries experience unwanted and expensive interactions with olive ridley turtles (Kapurusinghe & Cooray, 2002; Rajakaruna et al., 2009. The turtles actively seek and feed from gill nets containing captured fish, but in the process often become entangled, causing additional damage with each entanglement. Once turtles are entangled they may drown, but are more often hauled aboard fishing vessels alive and extremely aggressive. In response, fishers either beat the turtles’ heads until they are rendered unconscious, or hack off the turtles’ flippers to make disentanglement easier. The turtles are then either discarded at sea, or brought back to shore for illegal processing for their meat for local consumption. Harming and killing the turtles, or possessing their body parts, is prohibited under the 1972 Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka (FFPO, 1972; amendment 1993 and 2009). Through these unwanted turtle interactions, fishing families are therefore compromised through the significant costs incurred in repairing damaged gear, as well as at risk of illegal activity under national legislation. Marine turtles are also endangered animals and play a key role as coastal biodiversity. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce unwanted interaction between fisher folk and marine turtles.
The overall objective of the study summarized in this report was to reduce turtle bycatch and mortality due to interactions with fishers and fishing gear, and promote marine turtle conservation among fishing communities in the Gulf of Mannar, off the Northwestern Province (NWP) of Sri Lanka. The activities described below took place between August 2014 and July 2015.
We expect to see immediate positive outcomes from the project. Two months after conducting a programme, a chairman of a local fisheries society reported that no members of his society had killed turtles along the Puttlam lagoon this year, despite it being a common practice each June- August when olive ridley turtles move into the lagoon area. I have also recently visited the site and small island in the lagoon, where turtle carapaces are normally found, and did not find any new turtle shells.
Conservation materials such as posters were distributed among fishers in these societies, and are often displayed in their homes. This helps people remember the awareness programme and our message about sea turtle and coastal biodiversity conservation. Furthermore, school children from the fishing villages will potentially change their attitude towards conservation of sea turtles and coastal biodiversity when they become fishermen. Children in this area often begin fishing at the age of 16 years or younger. So the effect will should become more apparent in the near future.
Kapurusinghe, T & R. Cooray. 2002. Marine Turtle Bycatch in Sri Lanka: Survey Report. Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) Publication, Sri Lanka.
Rajakaruna, R.S., D.M.N.J. Dissanayake, E.M.L. Ekanayake & K.B. Ranawana. 2009. Sea turtle conservation in Sri Lanka: Assessment of knowledge, attitude and prevalence of consumptive use of turtle products among coastal communities. Indian Ocean Turtle Newsletter 10: 1-13.
Ekanayake, E.M.L., A.M.D.S. Rathnakumara & Y.K. Karunarathna. 2015. Fishermen attitudinal survey to assess sea turtle bycatch in Gulf of Mannar, Northwest, Sri Lanka. In: Book of abstracts of 35th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation (eds. Kaska, Y., B. Sonmez, O. Turkecan & C. Sezgin). MACART press, Turkey, p. 104.
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