After declining to about 10% of its population over the last century, the hawksbill sea turtle in Belize is on the rise again thanks to expanded legal protections.
Endangered hawksbill sea turtles rebounding in Belize
Hawksbill sea turtles face severe obstacles to survival. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) gave the turtles the unfortunate honor of a spot on the “Red List” of endangered species. However, at Glover’s Atoll within the Belize Barrier Reef, these turtles thrive. This project aims to undercover the reasons for the hawkbills’ success at this Atoll, as well as demonstrate the importance of these creatures to the ecosystem of the Belize Barrier Reef.
Virginia Burns Perez, the Technical Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation’s Sea Turtle program in Middle Caye, Belize explained several possibilities for the hawksbills thriving at Glover’s. She highlighted laws protecting sea turtles from fishing, as well as their evolved strong jaws which allow them to consume the barrel sponges along the Glover’s Atoll.
The Wildlife Conservation Society operates the Glover’s Reef Research Station on Middle Cay. It opened in 1997 to promote and facilitate long-term conservation and management of the wider Belize Barrier Reef complex. The WSC worked with the Belize Fisheries Department along with other local stakeholders to create a conservation plan for the Glover’s Reef site. The hawksbill sea turtle was one of the target species for conservation. A field study featuring research conducted between 2007 and 2013 showed that more than 1,000 juvenile hawksbill sea turtles currently thrive at Glover’s Reef in Atoll, Belize.
According to Zach Flotz, the CCRE Station Manager and Dive Master for the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Belize, described how the best way for anyone to help the turtles involves “staying out of their way,” and that “the best way we can help them is by not affecting them at all.” At the Smithsonian site, Foltz and his crew have kept track of where the turtles nest and how they nest in order to maneuver around them.