In recent years, the BBFFS has been instrumental in the establishment and management of the Bluefields Bay Fish Sanctuary, the largest marine protected area in Jamaica. The group has also been active in educating the public about the importance of protecting sea turtles, and BBFFS member Roy Walcott has been informally monitoring a major turtle nesting beach in Farm since 2006.
The BBFFS was selected by JET to manage the implementation of the Turtle Monitoring Project in the Bluefields area in 2011. Led by Project Manager and BBFFS Treasurer Barbara Blythe, the BBFFS team worked to educate the community about the importance of protecting turtles and their eggs and collect detailed information regarding turtle nesting activity in the Bluefields area. The goals of this work were twofold: to reduce the poaching of turtles and their eggs in the Bluefields area and to gather vital information regarding turtle activity that could be used for further education and protection efforts.
The BBFFS Turtle Monitoring Project was spearheaded by Barbara Blythe, Project Manager, and two NEPA-certified Game Wardens, Roy Walcott and Emsley Graham. Additional support was provided by the Executive Board of the BBFFS, through which all major decisions were approved. In 2012, a further 25 volunteers assisted with monitoring of the main turtle nesting site in Farm over the course of seven months.
Turtle Monitoring Programme
Although there are several turtle nesting beaches in the Bluefields area, the turtle nesting beach in Farm was selected again for the monitoring programme due to its high incidence of turtle activity in 2011. Another beach in Farm, next to Sandals Whitehouse, was included as a turtle monitoring site because of its observed turtle activity this year. On May 1, 2012, the BBFFS team of Barbara Blythe, Roy Walcott, and Emsley Graham began monitoring the beach seven days a week. The beach was usually visited by the entire team at nighttime, between the hours of 9:00pm and 2:00am, and by Roy Walcott every morning around 5:30am. Volunteers often accompanied the team to the beach for monitoring. The monitors logged over 800 man hours surveying the turtle monitoring sites this season.
While at the beach, the team surveyed the site for signs of turtle activity including mature turtle tracks, turtle nests, and hatchling tracks. The entire beach was scanned at least twice on each visit, and typically the beach was surveyed every half an hour. When not surveying the beach, the team gathered in a small tent in the mangrove approximately 20 meters from the beach to ensure that they were not disturbing turtles.
The team monitored any turtle activity in the area, recording their observations on data sheets. If mature turtle tracks were observed but the turtle had returned to the sea, the size, shape, and location of the tracks were recorded. If a turtle was spotted, its size and location was recorded. In both cases, any signs of nesting activity were recorded and the number of eggs was counted if possible. The condition of the eggs was also monitored to determine the degree to which eggs were damaged. Upon the hatching of a turtle nest, the number of hatchlings were counted and recorded, as were the number of eggs that spoiled, decomposed, or failed to hatch. Variables that may have impacted the nests such as signs of predators (mongoose, ants, etc.) or condition of area (rocky, full of roots, etc.) were also observed. In all cases, a camera and GPS was used to obtain documentation of turtle activity.
The turtle monitoring project was implemented in the Bluefields area by the team from the BBFFS from May 1, 2012 until January 13, 2013. Four incidences of mature turtle activity were observed during the monitoring period, and 594 live hawksbill hatchlings safely made their way into the Caribbean Sea. The BBFFS team was honored to be part of such an important environmental programme, and would like to thank Sandals Foundation, BEPA, and NEPA for their continued partnership with this project.