We got back from the field at the weekend having had a busy week conducting interviews with villagers about the use of turtle products, checking nests and liaising with hotels about issues relating to eco-tourism.
Preliminary results from the interviews show that many people along the coast still continue to eat turtle meat although they know it is illegal. These are mainly turtles caught in nets rather than nesting females. The meat is sold for about £0.50 per kg. Oil is also used for cooking and sometimes to cure ailments such as stomach ache. Several people have died from eating turtle meat (hawksbill) and local people believe that tagged turtles are poisonous so these ones are left alone. We need to tag more turtles!
Dynamite fishing continues. Fishers are now beginning to fish with dynamite at night (to avoid detection by the authorities) using hurricane lamps to attract the fish. This is such a destructive and indiscriminate practice and of course it is illegal. The blasts damage coral reefs, and all fish within a radius of 20-30 m die. It is also a very wasteful way to fish as only about 5-10% of fish are collected. The rest sink to the bottom or are moved away with the current. We are planning to hold a meeting with concerned fishers and local NGOs in the next few weeks to come up with a strategy to combat dynamite fishing once and for all.
Turtles continue to nest. This time last year the season had almost come to an end but this year the numbers of nesting females are greater and the season longer. This is a good sign. Many guests at the hotels have seen hatchlings emerging from nests and we have collected some donations, half of which will go to the local village “conservation fund”.
The team is off to Mafia Island next week to see how the Conservation Officers are getting on and to hold meetings with village leaders to discuss marine matters.