In this edition of the Environment Column, we will delve into the issues of Sea Turtle since every 16th June is commemorated as a world sea turtle day.
Every year over eight million tons of plastic is thrown in the Ocean which therefore threatens the life of marine mammals including sea turtle.
Sea turtles in the Gambia like everywhere are also facing threats from plastic pollution as a result of human activities.
They are sometimes entangled in fishing nets which at times kills them.
Almost all four species of turtles are found in the Gambia.
Turtles can be mostly found in the coastal areas like Brufut and Tanji and other coastal places.
The most common of the species found in the country is the Green Turtle.
According to World Wild Fund Sea turtle face threat around the globe as six out of seven species of marine turtles are threatened with extinction.
Studies also show that it takes decades for sea turtles to reach sexual maturity. Mature sea turtles may migrate thousands of miles to reach breeding sites. After mating at sea, adult female sea turtles return to land to lay their eggs. Different species of sea turtles exhibit various levels of philopatry. In the extreme cases, females return to the same beach where they hatched. This can take place every two to four years in maturity.
The study states that Sea turtles are caught worldwide, although it is illegal to hunt most species in many countries.
A great deal of intentional sea turtle harvests worldwide is for food. Many parts of the world have long considered sea turtles to be fine dining.
In the Gambia environmentalists and the Gambia's parks and wildlife are very worried about the lives of the marine turtles since they are caught by people.
Some of their habitats are being destroyed through expansion activities on the Coastal areas. The Gambia was one-time fine destination for marine turtles but the country's wildlife protectors believed that lot are disappearing and becoming extinct.
The Gambia Wetland Study 1997 reports that the first systematic survey of the marine turtles are off the 80 km of Gambian coastline, and brings together new data and all past records and reports of marine turtles in The Gambia. Green turtles Chelonia mydas are the most abundant turtles and this is the only species so far observed nesting in The Gambia, with peak nesting between August and October. Although 75% (60 km) of The Gambian coastline appears to be suitable for turtle nesting, most nesting activity is confined to the southern coastline.
The report states that offshore foraging habitat is extensive. Stranding's of green turtles, olive ridley turtles Lepidochelys olivacea, leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea and hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata have been recorded, but they were unable to find evidence for loggerhead turtles Caretta.
It adds that threats are mainly of human origin, and include illegal harvesting of eggs, juveniles, and adults, as well as mortality as fisheries bycatch, including trawling. One stranded green turtle had fibropapilloma disease. The major threat to nesting habitats is erosion and unregulated development of the coast for tourism. Marine turtles are fully protected under Gambian law. Other national efforts to conserve turtles in The Gambia are described and assessed.
Speaking to the senior officer at the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Mr. Kawsu Jammeh said the distributions of sea Turtles are especially important in the West African sub-region that indeed, the Bijagos and Cape Verde Islands respectively host the largest populations of Green turtles and Loggerhead turtles in the Atlantic. He said every year; approximately 7000 families come to lay their eggs on the beaches of JaoVerra/Palao National Marine Park that; Satellite transmitters have been placed on some individuals, enabling them to discover the migration route which takes the Green turtle along the coast to the seagrass beds of the Golfed'Arguin.
He said the Satellite tracking of loggerheads turtles which breed on the Island of Boa Vista (Cape Verde), has shown a dispersal pattern stretching over coastal waters from Mauritania to Sierra Leone, thus providing an ideal illustration of the eco-region concept which underpinned the creation of the PRCM because they are dependent on terrestrial and marine habitats at different times during the yearly circle.
Mr. Jammeh said sea turtles are good indicators of the development of certain phenomena such as tourism or coastal erosion which jeopardize nesting or offshore oil drilling and fishing which have, or could potentially have, a major impact on the survival of turtle population. He added that Climate Change induced coastal erosion due to sea-level rise is affecting Jinak Island, which is taking over nesting sand dune for sea turtles. 'In spite of our inefficient method applied in the collection of sea turtle data, there is an absolute need to regularly and sufficiently monitor turtles particularly with reference to their vulnerability to climate change," he said.
He added that it is evident that turtles nesting in the Gambia are faced with serious challenges such as coastline erosion, deliberate entanglement, incidental catch, hunting at landing position and high-water temperature.
Also speaking Nfamara Drammeh an Environmentalist said that four out of seven species of sea turtles found in the world are present in the Gambia.
He said the most common species using the Gambia's coastline for nesting is Green Turtle.
All wildlife including marine Turtle is protected by wildlife and Biodiversity Act, 2003'.He said
Mr. Drammeh said it's against the law to capture, kill or possess any trophies of Marine Turtle in the Gambia without the permission from the Parks & Wildlife Management.
He added that over the years, the population of sea turtle is declining, causing some species to be listed as endangered species.
The green turtles were very common on beaches of Brufut Bijilo, Tanji Batokonko, Tujereng Sanyang Gunjur, Kartong, and Niumi.
He concluded that increased coastal development (settlements and other tourism-related activities) has contributed to the declining nesting sites along their coast.