The Marine Research Foundation assisted WWF Vietnam to implement sea turtle management training at Con Dao Island, working with trainees from Con Dao National Park and other staff trainees from Ninh Thuan and Quang Tri provinces, in addition to national government officials, to build their capacity to effectively implement a systematic sea turtle monitoring, tagging and nesting beach management programmes, as well population studies and related research including the deployment of satellite tracking technology and subsequent analyses. This project, funded by DANIDA, contributed to WWF’s Greater Mekong Programme’s ongoing effort and initiatives to protect sea turtle populations and conserve marine biodiversity in Vietnam.
Specifically, the project entailed conducting training for Vietnamese staff which included marine turtle biology and management principles, nesting beach management, satellite tracking (including deployment of four satellite tracking PTTs), data recording and biological sampling techniques, data management, and overseeing the on-line tracking of four tracked turtles using seaturtle.org facilities and mapping database, including assisting in setting up WWF/Con Dao/Nui Chua project page on http://www.seaturtle.org.
Five species of marine turtles are found within the territorial waters of Vietnam – green, hawksbill, olive ridley, loggerhead and leatherback. Studies by WWF Indochina’s Vietnam Programme and partners reveal that all marine turtle populations in Vietnam have been heavily impacted by humans, and all species are declining. Threats include egg collection, harvesting for food, drugs, and handicrafts, as well as bycatch in gillnet, trawl, and longline fisheries. In 2003, the government of Vietnam released its Marine Turtle Conservation Action Plan, aimed at improving the protection and management of threatened marine turtles in Vietnam.
During the course of the training there were numerous discussion sessions which led to a more focused and balanced understanding of the issues involved in understanding marine turtle biology and having a significant and practical impact on their conservation. These discussions took place on the beach, at the headquarters offices, or over meals, but always served to explore in greater detail the issues affecting Con Dao National Park, or to build on the knowledge base to maximize the future training impacts at a National level.
With the ongoing and ever-increasing development of the Con Dao islands, nature-based tourism is set to become a significant economic driving force. The increase in flights to the islands, the growing affluence of the local tourism sector, and Vietnam’s continued visibility as a safe destination are likely to compound tourism pressures on the natural resources, and managing tourism projects needs to be anticipated, rather than reacted to. The Park will need to establish and enforce strict guidelines and implement a sound and thorough education process to manage people on the beaches effectively.
Among the most pressing issues which need to be considered with regard to marine turtle conservation are those critical components of their life cycle that pose a number of challenges to human intervention. With maturation periods of up to 30 years, the impacts to earlier life stages can only be determined through long-term studies and monitoring. When management input is only focused on the brief time the turtles are on land to lay eggs, over 95% of their life cycle is not represented. Therefore, in addition to cohesive beach studies, there is a need to also consider the time that turtles spend at sea, and the threats they face in oceanic and foraging habitats, if one is to have a truly meaningful impact on their conservation, in particular the impact of fisheries and habitat degradation.
At the same time, the mere basis for wanting to conserve eggs and turtles needs to be determined and built into all decision-making processes. Why are turtles tagged? Why are they measured? What are eggs counted on the beach? What is the value of determining hatching success? What is the long-term goal of the CDNP, and for that matter, other conservation initiatives? Is it to repopulate levels so they may be harvested once more? Is it because of moral or aesthetic values? These are issues that need to be incorporated into the thinking process when developing conservation agendas.
This work was funded by WWF Indochina.