Turtles are an important component of marine ecosystems, they offer benefits far beyond the tangible, and thus their conservation is a public process, not that of a handful of dedicated individuals. Effective conservation thus requires a widespread awareness campaign, coupled with programmes which provide alternative livelihoods to those affected by conservation activities, supported by quality research and monitoring of turtle populations.

To address the status of turtles and habitats in the SSS (and even at a greater regional level) MRF developed a regional plan of action based on the best available information and understanding of marine turtle biology, life cycles and turtles’ needs.

DSC_4802The Plan provides a structure under which management and conservation initiatives may be identified and then implemented, and their success evaluated, consistent across borders, stakeholders and legislative structures. It builds on existing and planned interventions, but grounds those interventions in science and assigns priorities based on turtle biological time- clocks.

There have been an increasing number of responses to threats to marine turtles by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines over the past two decades. Much has been done to protect critical nesting beaches, and agreements have been forged which have resulted in the protection of strategic turtle habitats, both at sea and ashore. This Plan does not intend to replace these valuable efforts, but rather build upon them and bring them together under one cohesive and visionary conservation approach, which can be independently carried out at the National level with Regional impacts.

In addressing the conservation of marine turtles in the Sulu Sulawesi Seascape, it is worth asking the question “What is the main priority?” We know that the commitment has already been made at the highest governmental levels to address the issue of marine turtle conservation through various laws, bilateral and multi-lateral agreements, and research and site-specific conservation activities have been taking place for several years. But what is now required now is immediate, concerted activity to implement the coordinated regional action plan, which addresses the needs of the turtles and habitats as well as the communities, industries and institutions that depend on or influence them.

DSC00014For conservation of marine turtles at a regional scale to be effective and for the Regional Action Plan to have a realistic chance of succeeding in the short-term and in future years, the following fundamental requirements were incorporated into the Plan: (1) having a clear logical pathway that maps the routes from implementation to conservation outcomes (2) setting realistic outputs, measurable deliverables, long-term objectives, (3) have the right people to do the job, (4) be cooperative, inclusive, adaptable and sharing, and finally be acceptable to the general public.

Management interventions need measurable deliverables. Probably the most important consideration in today’s era of new ocean stewardship is that there needs to be a logical flow from the action or task implemented on the ground through to management intervention and onwards towards the overall goal.

Management interventions also need both short-term and long-term objectives. We must consider the time- scale upon which turtle populations replenish. It is of little use having a two year conservation project which protects nesting turtles and eggs, if poachers are allowed to continue taking eggs and adults after the project is over.

IMG_5335Finally, management interventions need local know-how. When local communities are involved and share their local and cultural knowledge, there are often opportunities to merge modern conservation strategies with age-old traditions. Contemporary scientific information is a second link in the process, as without it many of today’s threats could not be quantified, addressed, and much of our knowledge of the lifecycles of turtles would not exist.

The design and development of the Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of Sea Turtles and their Habitats in the Sulu Sulawesi Seascape was funded by Conservation International Philippines.