This project was embedded within the scope of a greater Eritrea Coastal, Marine and Island Biodiversity (ECMIB) project, and was designed to provide in-situ training and oversight to fully develop capacity to design and implement marine turtle surveys, monitoring and conservation within the ECMIB Project, along with the Ministry of Fisheries and other key stakeholders. Inclusion and involvement of local community representatives at all stages was also a high priority. The objective of the greater GEF-funded project were to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the globally significant biodiversity of the State of Eritrea’s coastal, marine and island (CMI) ecosystems.

These were being threatened by the rapid development of fisheries, tourism, and other activities including oil exploration. The ECMIB Project facilitated sustainable development of Eritrea’s CMI resources through a participatory management framework; establishment of conservation areas and species protection programmes; an operational information system; and increased public awareness of the needs and benefits of CMI biodiversity. This nationally executed project was (and continues to be) implemented by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Eritrea 3A primary objective of the training activities was the establishment of a turtle conservation pilot programme in the Eritrean Red Sea, and a secondary objective was the provision of training in cetacean and sirenian ecology and conservation. The training course and follow up activities were dynamic in structure; sharply-focused; goal orientated; and developed in the context of the project objectives, using appropriately trained/experienced national facilitators wherever possible. Emphasis was placed on experience and knowledge gained through practical field-orientated training exercises.

These included the development of a marine turtle conservation programme and conservation of important turtle habitats (partly through development of Marine Protected Areas), which had been identified as a first step in establishing species conservation programmes in the Eritrean Red Sea. The initial focus resulted in establishing a pilot turtle conservation and management programme in a proposed protected area in the southern Eritrean Red Sea. This pilot programme then provided the foundation for the development a national turtle conservation programme, developed by the Marine Research Foundation, which has already been adopted by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Eritrea 14The Eritrean coast is home to a formidable array of marine wildlife, with marine turtles constituting an important food resource for people, restricted to the coastal belt. As a key component of the Eritrea Coastal Island and Marine Biodiversity (ECMIB) Project, marine turtles along Eritrea’s coast are today the focus of intensive studies and critical conservation initiatives including public awareness, international linkages, and the protection of key nesting and foraging habitats.

In 2004 the ECMIB project began this process with a ten-day intensive training course, run by the Marine Research Foundation, in marine turtle biology and conservation, attended by more than 24 staff and specialists of the project and various stakeholder groups (Agriculture, Fisheries, and Tourism, the Environment). From the participants, a team of four ECMIB Project staff were selected to form a core turtle research and conservation group, and began surveys of the coastal areas, collecting information on seasonality of nesting, species present, and uses and captures where applicable. From this work two main species were found to be present in Eritrean waters, the Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the Green (Chelonia mydas). Subsistence harvests were found to occur along the coast and numerous discarded carapaces were found at artisanal fishing villages, mostly though incidental capture in nets, but with a degree of directed take. An additional pressing problem was bycatch in the mechanised trawl industry, through which hundreds of turtles had been caught over the previous few years.

In 2005, during a field excursion undertaken by a team of 15 people under the guidance of the MRF, the turtle team, stakeholders, and various support personnel, the project recorded a regional first with the nesting attempt by an Olive ridley turtle, the first time this has ever been documented in the Red Sea. Identification was confirmed by the turtle’s somewhat circular carapace, with slightly upturned margins, and eight left and six right costal scutes with the first costal scutes touching the nuchal scute.

The future of marine turtle conservation has a bright outlook in Eritrea. With the support of the UNDP-funded ECMIB Project, and with Eritrea now a member of the IOSEA MoU, an agreement directed specifically at marine turtle conservation, further education and training for the turtle team is being coordinated. Marine turtles also feature prominently in plans to set aside marine protected areas which will safeguard these resources and leave behind a longstanding legacy for future generations.

This project was enabled via the GEF-funded Eritrea Coastal, Marine and Island Biodiversity (ECMIB) project.