Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hawksbill Turtle video!!

-- video taken by GVI volunteer on snorkel transect--

The Hawksbill Turtle (Erctomochelys imbricata)or Ng’amba in Kiswahili is one of the most beautiful of the sea turtles and is easily recognisable by its tortoise shell carapace and hooked beak. Hawksbills were once a common sight on tropical reefs, however due to centuries of hunting and poaching they are now listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Hawksbills are very important to the ecology of coral reefs as they are specifically adapted to eating sponges, which can account for up to 80% of their diet. Sponges compete with the algae that live in symbiosis with the coral polyps. So by eating these sponges the turtles reduce competition and promote coral growth. Sea turtles are a flagship species, and conserving them has a direct impact on marine habitats and resources (Wamukota & Okemwa, 2004). In Kenya, through community based education and increased awareness it is hoped that the threats to this species survival will be greatly reduced – fishermen-release programmes, beach patrols and improved fishing methods all help towards this aim.

GVI research has shown an increase in the frequency of Hawksbill Turtle sightings in the Kisite Mpunguti Marine Protected Area from the last expedition and from the same time last year. During the last 3 weeks we have sighted six Hawksbill Turtles, including one incredible sighting where we were able to film our well known friend and resident Hawksbill, Squirt shown above, surfacing and diving back down to the reef. This time last year there was only one Hawksbill Turtle sighted in the same time frame and similarly only two were sighted in the first 3 weeks of last expedition. Taken at face value, this is fantastic news as it indicates the reefs are healthy and able to support these amazing creatures. Further analysis will help us understand any underlying reasons behind this apparent increase. GVI is able to pass this valuable data onto our partners, KWS and KESCOM to supplement their research findings and assess turtle abundances both regionally, nationally and internationally.