When the Association of Reef Keepers carried out its annual tagging exercise 15 years ago, it found 172 green sea turtles and 328 hawksbill.
Last year, those numbers had dropped to 167 and six, respectively.
A new film and discussion series were launched recently as part of efforts to find a way to protect the marine reptiles. The 25-minute film — “Turtles in the Virgin Islands: Balancing Conservation and Culture” — was shown from April 17 through Tuesday across all four main islands.
The series was part of the Sustaining Turtles, Environment, Economies and Livelihoods project ect, known as STEEL. The initiative was funded by the United Kingdom government’s Darwin Plus programme with the aim of updating sea turtle management and conservation efforts in the VI, according to project partner Amdeep Sanghera, a UK overseas territories conservation officer for the UK-based Marine Conservation Society.
Mr. Sanghera was among several speakers when the film was shown at the Catholic Community Centre on Virgin Gorda last Thursday to a crowd that included fishers, conservationists and community leaders.
Each session started with a presentation by ARK Managing Director Dr. Shannon Gore, who explained some of the findings of the STEEL project and then took questions.
During her presentation, Dr. Gore discussed the types of sea turtles found in the VI and explained their nesting habits. Leatherbacks, she said, tend to nest on north shore beaches, while hawksbills nest on beaches with vegetation, and greens often prefer Anegada.
“One of the biggest problems we’ve seen is when a resort or someone builds their house on the beach and takes out the vegetation, the turtles will stop coming in,” Dr. Gore said.
Attendees also received card handouts explaining a turtle’s life cycle — crucial information for anyone to know, according to the biologist.
“You have to understand the turtle’s life cycle in order to put conservation measures in place,” she said.
The 25-minute film was produced using the “community voice method,” which Mr. Sanghera described as a technique designed to gather input on issues of collective concern.
Twenty-eight people across the territory who were interviewed for the film shared their views on the local environment, the tourism sector, and sea turtle conservation.
They included Dr. Cassander Titley-O’Neal, director of the National Parks Trust; Abbi Christopher, environment and fisheries specialist; and Allington “Gumption” Creque, owner of Sea it Clear Tours. Some of the people featured in the film also attended the screenings.
After the film was shown last Thursday in Virgin Gorda, participants were divided into break-out groups to discuss their views on sea turtle conservation and management in the territory.