Marine turtles of the Maldives
The ability to identify individuals within a population is often a starting point for ecological and conservation studies. Realistic estimates of population size and distribution of a species are important for creating effective management strategies.
All seven species of sea turtles are listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. Five of them can be found in the Maldives, with the Hawksbill turtle and the Green turtle being the most commonly sighted species. Among major threats to sea turtles, egg and meat poaching and entanglement in marine debris remain the most imortant causes of the observed nationwide decline in sea turtle populations over the last several decades (Zahir 2000).
Although all species of turtles have been protected by law in the Maldives since 1995, little information is available about their population numbers or their distribution. Increased exploitations of sea turtles and their habitats coupled with a growing human population, are creating an uncertain future for these animals in the Maldives. The Maldivian Sea Turtle Identification Program, started in 2011 by Seamarc marine biologists, aims to create the first Maldives-wide photographic database of sea turtles in order to study population dynamics, migrations, and habitat use.
Recent advancements in technology coupled with a rise in social networking mean that information can also be collected from “citizen scientists” (members of the general public with no special training in photography or fieldwork). This allows for large volumes of data to be collected from multiple locations with relative ease. Additionally this creates educational opportunities and increased awareness about the target species amongst the local population. Photo-ID has advantages over other techniques because it involves no physical capture or handling of the animal and the behaviour of the animal is less likely to be affected.
Part 1: Biology and life-cycle of marine turtles
Part 2: Marine turtles of the Maldives
Part 3: Importance of marine turtles and their global and local threats
Part 4: National and international legislation and conservation efforts to protect turtles
Part 5: Maldives Photo ID programme
Part 6: Questions and Answers
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