Over 10,000 marine turtles are being killed in one region of Madagascar for food every year, according to a new study in Animal Conservation. Although fishing for marine turtles is illegal, it has not stopped local artisanal fishermen from pursuing four different endangered marine turtle species.
“We conducted this study because we know this small-scale, artisanal fishing is going on despite it being illegal to catch turtles under Malagasy law,” Annette Broderick, from the Center for Ecology and Conservation (Cornwall) at the University of Exeter, said in a press release. “Because turtles are an endangered species, it’s important for us to know what’s going on in the region so we can work with the local community to find a sustainable way forward.”
699 marine turtles were landed in 12 coastal villages in Madagascar, according to paid locals who kept a count. Combining these figures with previous data from the region allowed for what the researchers are dubbing a ‘conservative’ estimate of 10,000 to 16,000 marine turtles killed for food in one year. Most of the turtles were green turtles (Chelonia mydas), which are classified by the IUCN Red List as globally Endangered.
Green sea turtle caught on an island off Madagascar. Photo by: Dr. Garth Cripps, Blue Ventures.
One of the poorest countries in the world, it is estimated that around 70% of people in Madagascar suffer from malnutrition.
“Catching turtles for their meat is an important part of Malagasy culture for many coastal people, but the villagers also understand the importance of ensuring the future of this resource,” explains Frances Humber with Blue Ventures Conservation, a marine conservation organization that works in Madagascar. “This study is a great way of involving communities in the process of finding a sustainable way forward.”
While the study focused on Madagascar, Humber says turtles remain on the dinner table in many parts of the world, despite its illegality.
“We’d expect similar harvests in many countries in the tropical coastal developing world, so this isn’t an isolated issue, but clearly it is a cause for concern when dealing with endangered species. It’s possible the model for this study could be used elsewhere to get a better idea of numbers.”
She adds that, “clearly making turtle fishing illegal hasn’t worked, so we need to work with communities to promote sustainable practices.”
Of the seven marine turtle species in the world: three are listed as Critically Endangered, two are Endangered, one is Vulnerable, and one if Data Deficient.
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