Of the seven species of marine turtles in the world, five species have been recorded in the Maldives. A new paper recommends stringent protection measures for the Maldives’ turtles, including strict penalties for anyone catching or killing turtles or collecting eggs.
The paper is a result of a citizen science program – ‘Turtlewatch Maldives’.
The in-water component of the study showed hawksbill turtles to be the most frequently sighted followed by green turtles. The highest turtle sighting per in-water survey was recorded for Baa atoll, with most frequent sightings being of hawksbill turtles. The study found that in-water sightings of the green turtle were low for most of the surveyed atolls with the exception of Lhaviyani atoll. The results of the nesting surveys conducted at selected islands and resorts showed highest nesting occurrence at L. Gaadhoo. However, annual nesting estimate for L. Gaadhoo from this study showed a 40% decline when compared with the annual nesting estimate for the year 1984.
Until the recent protection of turtles under Environment Protection and Preservation Act (4/93), marine turtles of the Maldives were protected through two consecutive ten-year moratoria on direct harvest throughout the Maldives. Restrictions on egg harvesting at selected islands was introduced later, in the second ten-year moratorium. Although moratoria on direct harvest of turtles were successful in preventing the exportation and local trade of turtle shells, poaching of turtles for local consumption are still prevalent in some parts of the Maldives.
Based on the findings of the study, the review provides policy recommendations ranging from declaring a total ban on harvest of turtles for an indefinite period of time to imposing a nation-wide ban on harvesting of turtle eggs. The review also highlights the importance of continuing monitoring efforts at turtle nesting islands to identify the “best turtle islands”, in order to facilitate the inclusion of two most significant turtle habitats in the Maldives into the IOSEA-MoU’s Site Network. The review also recommends increasing public awareness on turtle conservation issues as awareness among public in this respect was very low despite turtles having being protected for the past two decades in the Maldives.