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Jun 15, 2021

Joint Efforts and Joint Celebration: The Belize Sea Turtle Conservation Network

It is Sea Turtle Week and Belize’s conservation community is raising awareness of these endangered creatures, and their long journey—sometimes hundreds of miles in open water—to their nesting grounds.  News Five spoke with three people leading the protection efforts in Belize.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Mario Muschamp is off the coast of Punta Gorda. He’s heading to a beach in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve where sea turtles nest.


Mario Muschamp, Terrestrial Manager, TIDE

“This is actually one of the better nesting sites here in the Marine Reserve and so one of the things we do during this time of the year is to walk these beaches and look for any nesting activities. What we do is we try to identify the species by measuring the track from what we see in the sand and then we try to locate the nest and once we locate the nest we take measurement to see how far that nest is from the high tide mark just to get an idea.”


The Green turtle, the Hawksbill and the Loggerhead are three of the species that commonly nest across Belize.  These turtles play important biological, cultural and economic roles Belize. While Belize still has a healthy population of these sea turtles, they are endangered and their numbers are dwindling worldwide.


Linda Searle

Linda Searle, Executive Director, ECOMAR

“All sea turtles have varying degrees of endangered; they can be vulnerable; they can be critically endangered or they can be data deficient.  For instance, the Hawksbill is critically endangered and it has been protected the longest here in Belize. In 1993, the Fisheries regulations were amended to include complete protection for Hawksbill Turtle. So, that meant that it couldn’t be harvested for food, shell or to make jewelry. Yet that was some time ago and still today people are observed selling articles made from the Hawksbill Turtle shell.”


Since 2002, all sea turtles in Belize are protected under the Fisheries Act. While the last sea turtle offence was committed over three years ago – the Fisheries Department says that when it comes to these offences, there are habitual offenders largely concentrated in one area.


Hampton Gamboa

Hampton Gamboa, Enforcement Unit Supervisor, Fisheries Department

“Since 2013 to present there have only been four arrests made for sea turtles. I must also state that all were within a one year period – each for one year 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. The last matter we took before the court was 2017.   The fine for it is two thousand dollars or one year imprisonment or both fine and confine. So, the Magistrate has the discretion to use that. With the new act it falls under the section of the general penalty of the new fisheries resource act which up to fifty thousand dollars can be fined for a piece of turtle.  Here in Belize District is one of the most problematic areas when it comes to marine turtles; majority of the other part of the country coastal wise people are very educated and knowledgeable. We have a two bad eggs or people who just don’t get it because all those four offences are right here in Belize City.”


And so it is important to safeguard the nesting sites to maintain a robust population of sea turtles. In Punta Gorda, TIDE rangers monitor several miles of beach where primarily Hawksbill Turtles nest. But they are losing eggs and hatchlings due to predators and what’s even more worrisome is that they are losing nesting sites because of erosion.


Mario Muschamp

“From what we seeing, we would say roughly somewhere between fifty to sixty animals are nesting along that stretch of beach and that Is not a bad number. And from what we seeing they are predominantly Hawksbill, so the more endangered species so it is crucial for us to protect those beaches and ensure that we get good success from those nesting sites.  So we are actually losing beaches and with that we are losing nesting sites and that is crucial to the population status because if there are no more nesting beaches eventually you will lose your population of turtles. So, we see erosion as one of the big problems happening along our coastlines.”


But for decades sea turtles have been under pressure and that’s why over twenty years ago, a group of conservationists came together to raise awareness of sea turtles in Belize. The Belize Sea Turtle Conservation Network leads the advocacy for these marine animals through data, research and education. But these sea turtles remain at risk with humans posing the biggest threat.


Linda Searle

“So it is important to know where your fishing gear is and not to throw garbage in the sea or even in the river.   So, it possible the marine turtles will consume plastics or marine debris and so it will cause a clog in their intestine and they won’t be able to pass it and then they can die. So, probably humans are the biggest threat; coastal development and also boat strikes.”


But it is costly to monitor sea turtle nesting sites and resource for enforcement is a challenge – the conservation community relies on educational campaigns and the support of the Belizean public – as well as people like Mario Muschamp who walks for miles on a beach to map the nests on GPS and monitor them throughout the nesting season to ensure that the hatchlings make out to sea.


Mario Muschamp

Mario Muschamp

“It is fourteen miles of beach to walk so we try to do it in sections; one cover one section and so because as rangers we have other things to do and so we can only allot so much time to do it.  It is a big time consuming but for me very rewarding in the end when you go back to those nests and see the little hatchlings go back into the sea and so I really enjoy doing this kind of work.   The thing is we didn’t take any training – it was just discussing it with Linda and getting involved and really wanting to do it and started doing it. What we are seeing is encouraging us to want to do more.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


If you would like to help to protect these turtles, you can contact the members of the network: Hol Chan Marine Reserve; Belize Fisheries Department; ECOMAR; Belize Audubon Society; Southern Environmental Association; Toledo Institute for Development and Education or any of the marine protected areas managed by the Fisheries Department.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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