Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be selected by the Women Divers Hall of Fame, for their “Aggressor and Dancer Fleet Graduate Scholarship in Marine Conservation”. With this support, I was able to travel from Tofo, Mozambique to Dalaman, Turkey to attend the 35th International Sea Turtle Symposium, the largest gathering of sea turtle biologists, conservationists, veterinarians, policy makers, educators, academic researchers, field assistants and beach patrollers on the planet.
The conference was great and I used this opportunity to discuss aspects of my PhD research with other sea turtle scientists. My PhD project is looking to assess the conservation status of sea turtles in Southern Mozambique, particularly the impact of poaching/ illegal take of sea turtles. Although turtles have been protected in Mozambique since 1965, poaching is still widespread and often goes unpunished. Very little baseline information on the population size, distribution and threats exists to assess how poaching impacts turtles. The first part of my project was designed to evaluate the use of recreational divers as citizen scientists by collecting their sightings dive logs and I published a paper in Endangered Species Research earlier this year.
From this paper, the work has naturally progressed and the concept expanded. These dive logs coupled with a photographic identification program give basic information needed to understand population demographics of Mozambican sea turtles. The scale pattern on each turtles face, the area above the jaw and behind the eye, is unique for each animal and resightings of individuals can be used to collect information on animal movements, habitat use and preferences, home range and residency characteristics, through the use of an very clever semi-automated photo ID tool and database developed by the talented and amazing team at Kelonia, Reunion (www.torsooi.com). I presented these novel findings on the population demographics of green and loggerhead turtles at the ISTS 35. I was also able to attend a number of side meetings at the conference, where at one, the Africa regional meeting I was invited to speak at the opening session, where I presented a talk on how to achieve effective conservation when political will is lacking. I was also delighted to attend and discuss emerging issues for the application of photo ID for sea turtles with other colleagues and experts in this field. It was thoroughly inspirational, motivating and informative to attend the ISTS learn and attend presentations from a wide variety of research themes, meet with other students and have the opportunity for a much needed face to face reunion with one of my three academic supervisors. I am sincerely grateful to the International Sea Turtle Symposium for awarding me a travel grant which covered my accommodation and food throughout the week of the ISTS 35.
My attendance at the ISTS 35 was facilitated by the support of two grants of which I am extremely grateful for.