West African Sea Turtles: Looking Deeper

Latest update September 1, 2018 Started on September 1, 2018
sea

Sea turtles are called the ocean’s ambassadors for good reason… they know no borders and no distance is too great for them. They can travel thousands of kilometres from feeding grounds to nesting beaches; even hatchlings can span entire oceans, and then as adults somehow find their way back to the beach where they were born. Sea turtle scientists have been working for decades to better understand their behaviour and ecology, but it is not easy with such wide-ranging long-lived animals. In West Africa we have an additional problem: sea turtle numbers are declining because of the threats they face, so they are getting more and more difficult to find! During surveys at sea in Gabon and in Ivory Coast, the turtles we usually find are juveniles, while the big adult-sized turtles seem to be missing… so, where are they? If they are altogether missing or in very low numbers, we might be forced to conclude the population is in grave danger. On the other hand, we hope the adults are just using deeper waters, where they are safer from predators (including humans!), and where we have not been able to study them with boats, divers and tags. If we can better describe where turtles are when they’re at sea, where they go, what they eat and what their habitat is like, we will surely be able to protect them more effectively within marine protected areas. Join us as we study and protect the ambassadors of the sea!

September 1, 2018
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Expedition Background

Gabon recently created a vast network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in 2017 to protect marine wildlife and unique ecosystems. It covers an amazing 26% of its waters. Although the designs of the 20 new MPAs were based on considerable scientific knowledge, much remains to be learned about their biodiversity and habitats, ranging from shallow coastal reefs to mangrove estuaries to deep-sea canyons. Cote d’Ivoire, further north along the West African coast, is in the early stages of designing its very first marine protected area, with strong support from local and national governments and the United Nations Environment Program. The proposed MPA, an area of approximately 180 square kilometers, borders the country’s most important nesting beach for several species of endangered sea turtles. We have been studying sea turtle populations of Western Africa for more than a dozen years – looking at both the nesting beaches as well as near-shore habitats with free-divers, underwater camera traps, quadrats, and nets which have allowed us to explore the shallow areas while deeper areas, where larger sea turtles are believed to occur, have been beyond reach. We’ll be diving deeper using underwater drones, to study the offshore, deeper areas of Corisco Bay in Gabon and an area in Cote d’Ivoire. We will be looking to better understand the qualities of these areas and how they’re used by sea turtles.

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