Archive for the ‘Oceans’ Category

As nesting season begins, Sri Lanka’s olive ridley turtles face myriad threats

December 6, 2019
  • With the main nesting season for olive ridley sea turtles getting underway, the species faces a range of threats in the waters and beaches of Sri Lanka.
  • The country’s navy recently rescued 32 turtles trapped in shrimp fishing nets in the island’s north.
  • Marine turtles in Sri Lankan waters often end up entangled in nets, posing a serious threat to their survival.
  • Sea turtles worldwide are seriously affected by the fisheries industry, with millions killed every year.

https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/as-nesting-season-begins-sri-lankas-olive-ridley-turtles-face-myriad-threats/  published on Mongabay on 04.12.2019

COLOMBO — The Sri Lankan Navy has rescued 32 sea turtles that were likely being reared for their flesh, highlighting just one of the key threats to turtles migrating through this Indian Ocean island at this time of year.

A naval patrol on Nov. 24 in the Gulf of Mannar, which separates Sri Lanka from India, initially identified a turtle trapped in a shrimping net. A team of sailors deployed to rescue the animal discovered more turtles trapped in the net. In all, they rescued 32 sea turtles, among them olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and green turtles (Chelonia mydas).

Removing a fishing hook from a turtle. Image courtesy of the Turtle Conservation Project.

Though turtles are frequently trapped by accident in fishing nets, it appears likely these animals had been caught elsewhere and corralled in these shrimp pens, according to navy spokesman Isuru Sooriyabandara. He told Mongabay that a patrol two days earlier, on Nov. 22, had seized 4 kilograms (9 pounds) of turtle flesh from a boat close to the same location, raising the prospect that local fishermen were keeping the turtles for later consumption.

Sri Lankan waters are home to five of the seven species of marine turtles: the green turtleolive ridleyhawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea).

It’s the first two, however, that account for nearly the entire population of nesting turtles in Sri Lanka: 68 percent are green turtles and 30 percent olive ridley turtles, according to the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA). While the peak nesting frequency for green turtles in this region runs from February to April, the period between November and March is prime time for olive ridleys, which flock in the hundreds of thousands to beaches around the Bay of Bengal, including parts of Sri Lanka, to nest.

A turtle flipper seriously damaged by getting caught in a fishing net. Image courtesy of the Turtle Conservation Project.

But the rise in turtle numbers during this time of the year leads to a spike in hunting of the animals by local fishermen — a trend that navy spokesman Sooriyabandara said authorities were vigilant about.

Still, fishing nets set in the Gulf of Mannar and elsewhere accidentally catch a lot of turtles, especially in the final quarter of the year as they migrate across Sri Lanka waters to their breeding grounds, according to Thushan Kapurusinghe, the project leader of the Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) in Sri Lanka.

Entangled in fishing nets

The TCP conducted its first olive ridley rescue program from September 1999 to March 2001, in a bid to save turtles entangled in nets. It hired a boat and followed fishermen as they went fishing at dusk. The nets were checked throughout the night for possible entanglements, and any turtles found were immediately released. Over the two and a half years of the project, a total of 278 olive ridleys were rescued, comprising 157 females, 86 males and 35 whose sex was undetermined.

“The monitoring was strenuous, as a fishing net could extend several kilometers and these are laid on considerable distances to prevent turtles from getting entangled. So only a portion of fishing nets could be monitored by the TCP boat each night,” Kapurusinghe said, adding that the real rate of entanglement was likely much higher.

The front flippers of this hawksbill turtle found in Kosgoda was badly damaged due to a cut caused by a fishing net, so they had to be amputated. Image courtesy the Turtle Conservation Project.

Lalith Ekanayake, the chairman of the Bio Conservation Society (BCSSL), which also focuses on turtle conservation, said that while entangled turtles are able to keep their head up to breathe, the turtles that get caught deeper underwater are at high risk of drowning. Even those saved from the nets don’t always get away clean; many suffer injuries from the nylon mesh of the fishing nets, sometimes so severely that they require amputation of their flippers.

The IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Marine Turtles Specialist Group also recognizes the impact of fisheries as the biggest threat to marine turtles, while other threats include hunting, egg extraction and other pressures. “The turtles virtually everywhere are impacted by fisheries, especially longlines, gill nets and trawls. Millions of turtles are killed indirectly by fisheries every year worldwide,” said Roderic Mast, co-chair of IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Fishing nets that have been lost, abandoned or discarded at sea, known as ghost nets, pose the worst of fishing threats to turtles, Mast told Mongabay.

All marine turtle species found in Sri Lanka are listed as endangered on the country’s National Red List and are legally protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance and the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act. But laws alone can’t address the threats, Ekanayake said, adding that there needs to be greater awareness among fishing communities about their role in the issue. Both the BCSSL and the TCP run awareness campaigns about the importance of marine turtle conservation.

A sailor rescuing a juvenile green turtle from a shrimp net in the Gulf of Mannar, northern Sri Lanka. Image courtesy of the Sri Lankan Navy.

Turtle nesting sites abound all around Sri Lanka, with the major nesting beaches on the western, southwestern and southern coasts. There’s a rapid decline of turtles all over the island, Kapurusinghe said, especially the leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead varieties.

“For example, the Rekawa nesting site [in the south] hasn’t seen a leatherback turtle in two years or a hawksbill in four years, which is alarming,” Kapurusinghe said.

 

Banner image of a turtle stuck in a fishing net. Image courtesy of the Bio Conservation Society.

Would CITES listing help threatened sea cucumbers due to overexploitation?

August 14, 2019

Published on Mongabay on 10.08.2019 https://news.mongabay.com/2019/08/sri-lanka-pushes-for-protection-of-sea-cucumbers-amid-overexploitation/

  • With fewer species of sea cucumbers being recorded in catches, Sri Lanka stands to benefit from a proposal that is calling for increased protection of threatened species under CITES Appendix II.
  • Experts say there’s good precedent for believing that the listing will raise awareness and spur action to protect the sea cucumbers, citing the example of various shark species that received greater attention after being listed. 

A fisherman drying boiled sea cucumbers in the sun image courtesy of Terney Pradeep Kumara.

In the early 1980s, a common sight along the still unpolluted beaches of southern Sri Lanka was that of fisherfolk sun-drying small, blackish, cylindrical objects. They called them sea slugs, sea leeches, or sea cucumbers. These marine invertebrates were so abundant in the shallow coastal regions that they could be picked by hand during low tide.

But growing demand for sea cucumbers, considered a delicacy across Asia, has since driven the largely export-oriented Sri Lankan fishery to unsustainable levels.

After the sea cucumbers in shallow coastal waters were harvested, the populations in deeper areas were targeted by snorkeling fishermen and skin divers. The fishing pressure was so enormous that the sea cucumber fishery in southern Sri Lanka collapsed within a few years.

The eastern coast of the island suffered the same fate, and today the sea cucumber fishery is confined to the northern arc of Sri Lanka. Experts say they fear the remaining sea cucumber populations there, too, will be depleted if not managed properly.

A drive to promote the farming of live sea cucumbers is being attempted in Sri Lanka as an alternative to collecting them from the wild. Image courtesy of Kumudini Ekaratne.

“As mostly scuba divers hand pick sea cucumbers now, the pressure particularly on high value species are high. Some of these high value sea cucumber species are already rare to not available on many sites,” Chamari Dissanayake, from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, told Mongabay.

Dissanayake was a former research officer at the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) who studied the sea cucumber fishery. She identified 24 sea cucumber species in Sri Lankan waters, of which 20 have some sort of commercial value.

But the number being caught and sold is fast shrinking. A study published in May this year in the journal Aquatic Living Resources records nine sea cucumber species in commercial catches from November 2015 to January 2017 in Sri Lanka. That’s down from 11 species recorded in a study carried out in 2012, prompting researchers to conclude that some species are already overfished. These include the high-value Holothuria fuscogilva, known as the white teatfish and listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.

Teatfish are generally in high demand, and overfishing has caused the populations to decline in many countries. H. nobilis, the black teatfish, is another rare species found in the Sri Lankan waters and listed as endangered.

Weak species management systems, overexploitation by fishers, and vulnerable biological traits are the key reasons why teatfish sea cucumbers are under threat across their wide geographic range, said Steven Purcell, an expert on sea cucumbers at Australia’s Southern Cross University.

“The teatfish species of sea cucumbers are impacted by a compounding problem called ‘opportunistic exploitation,’” he told Mongabay. “This occurs when fishers over-harvest high-value species and then shift to harvesting lower-value species but can still collect the last of the high-value ones opportunistically, while they are out in the sea. This means that the high-value species, such as the teatfish types, can be harvested to the level of local extinction.”

As these teatfish require higher levels of protection against the international trade, a proposal has been submitted to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to list H. fuscogilvaH. nobilis and the endangered H. whitmaei (not recorded in Sri Lankan waters) in CITES Appendix II.

The proposal, supported by the European Union, Kenya, Senegal, the Seychelles and the U.S., will be considered at the 18th Conference of Parties (CoP18) to CITES in Geneva from Aug. 17 to 28.

There are three appendices under CITES offering varying degrees of protection for species. Inclusion in Appendix II will require countries to justify, through data collection and research, that exploitation and trade of the teatfish species in question won’t jeopardize their populations in the wild.

A mix of sea cucumbers freshly collected from the ocean bed. Image courtesy of Terney Pradeep Kumara.

For Sri Lanka, that could mean investing in field surveys to determine current population densities of black and white teatfish at multiple sites around the country, and socioeconomic surveys to determine which species, and how many, are collected by fishers, as well as identifying prevailing trading practices, Purcell said. This research would be required for assessing non-detriment findings and to inform decisions about whether trade should be allowed to continue at present levels.

Dissanayake’s research indicates that about 10,000 people depend on the sea cucumber fishery, a key earner of foreign currency.

“A solution has to be found by offering alternative livelihoods,” Dissanayake said.

Sea cucumbers are processed to make bêche-de-mer, a popular delicacy in East Asia. Image courtesy of Terney Pradeep Kumara.

Daniel Fernando, a co-founder of Blue Resources Trust, a marine research and conservation nonprofit, said there was good precedent to believe that achieving CITES listing for the overexploited sea cucumbers would be a key step toward protecting the species.

“Many people still consider marine fish just as a commodity and there is little focus on their protection,” he told Mongabay. “But CITES listing of marine species made lot of people around the globe to change this outlook.”

He pointed in particular to the listing of several shark species in various CITES appendices as helping to spur action for their protection.

“As a result of previous listing of sharks, many countries including Sri Lanka began investing in the protection of the species,” Fernando said. “All these marine species become threatened due to unsustainable fishing practices and lack of management.”

Citations:

Kumara, P. B., Cumaranathunga, P. R., & Linden, O. (2005). Present status of the sea cucumber fishery in southern Sri Lanka: A resource depleted industry. SPC Beche-de-mer Information Bulletin22, 24-29.

Nishanthan, G., Kumara, A., Prasada, P., & Dissanayake, C. (2019). Sea cucumber fishing pattern and the socio-economic characteristics of fisher communities in Sri Lanka. Aquatic Living Resources,32(12). doi:10.1051/alr/2019009

Banner image of a fisherman drying boiled sea cucumbers in the sun on Sri Lanka’s southern coast, courtesy of Terney Pradeep Kumara. 

Crackdown after Sri Lanka bombings may help in fight against blast fishing

July 26, 2019

Create ocean science ‘champions’ to boost nation’s security

July 14, 2019

Sri Lanka needs to understand how critical the resources of the ocean are to an island nation’s security and end its centuries’-old apathy about protecting its maritime base, leading scientists told a conference.

The state-of-the-art Control room of the Norwegian research vessel Dr. Fridtjof Nansen

“As an island nation, the resources of the ocean are very important for development and changes to ocean patterns can bring bad impacts. Sri Lanka needs to put more effort into developing understanding of the oceans around us through scientific research,” Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) General Manager Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara said.

Culturally and historically, society had been detached from the ocean and the education system needed to bridge this gap.

“We haven’t realised the importance of coastal zones. For example, most often the cemeteries of villages along the coastal belt are set up adjacent to beaches, proving that, traditionally, Sri Lankan society hasn’t realised the importance of ocean and related ecosystems,” Dr. Pradeep Kumara said.

His comments were made on Ocean Science Day, marked on June 27, organised by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, which is composed of 150 member states, including Sri Lanka.

The head of the IOC’s Ocean Science Section, Dr. Arico Salvatore, said Ocean Science Day – now in its second year – was established to demonstrate that ocean science aids societal goals.

Dr. Salvatore emphasised that countries such as Sri Lanka can benefit greatly from ocean science, particularly with ocean-based weather predictions that allow more effective planning of agricultural and fisheries operations.

“The tsunami warning system is a clear example how the application of ocean science can be used to save lives,” he added.

Ruhuna University’s Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Science students conduct research on board Dr. Fridtjof Nansen

Sri Lanka and adjacent countries benefit from the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System set up under the IOC’s leadership. At the time Sri Lanka was hit by the deadly tsunami of 2004, the Indian ocean region lacked a tsunami monitoring system. The late Professor Samantha Hettiarachchi was a major contributor to the success of the warning system, which began working in 2006.

“Sri Lanka has a lot of talent that will create champions in the field of ocean science. We are lagging behind in this field so we need to focus on a program to train more scientists in ocean science,” said Dr. Pradeep Kumara, a former head of the Department of Oceanography and Marine Geology at the University of Ruhuna.

Ocean science has evolved rapidly in recent years in response to growing international interest in ocean use, climate change, environmental protection and the conservation of ocean resources, and Sri Lanka needs to ride on this bandwagon and not get left behind, he said.

Dr. Upul Premaratne, Dr Pradeep Kumara’s successor at the university, said the faculty worked hard at producing quality graduates and it was important that job opportunities be created for them to prevent them going abroad where there was high demand – particularly in developed countries – for experts in ocean science and fisheries.

Another University of Ruhuna expert, Senior Professor Ruchira Cumaranatunga stressed the need for more resources. “We need a full-fledged research vessel that can continuously monitor the ocean around our country without us depending on other countries,” he pointed out.

Developed nations such as Norway have been showing Sri Lanka how to use modern technology in fisheries and other ocean sciences. Twenty Sri Lankan scientists were given the opportunity to sail on the Norwegian research vessel Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, which recently surveyed the ocean around Sri Lanka, assessing fish stocks and ecosystems.

The trip provided a novel experience for Sri Lankan scientists to familiarise themselves with the latest technologies, National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA)  scientist Dr. Prabath Jayasinghe, said.

Published on 14.07.2019 on SundayTimes http://www.sundaytimes.lk/190714/news/create-ocean-science-champions-to-boost-nations-security-358269.html