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 Front Cover
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 List of tables and figures
 I. Introduction
 II. Status and distribution of...
 III. Stresses on sea turtles in...
 IV. Solutions to stresses on sea...
 V. Literature cited
 Tables and figures
 Appendix 1. Belize Audubon...
 Appendix 2. U.S. public law 101-162...
 Back Cover


WIDECAST Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan for Belize
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/CA03599028/00001
 Material Information
Title: WIDECAST Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan for Belize
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Smith, Gregory W., Karen L. Eckert, and Janet P. Gibson
Publisher: UNEP Caribbean Environment Programme
Place of Publication: Kingston, Jamaica
Publication Date: 1992
 Record Information
Source Institution: Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network
Holding Location: WIDECAST
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
System ID: CA03599028:00001


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Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Title Page
        Title Page 1
        Title Page 2
        Page i
        Page ii
    Table of Contents
        Page iii
        Page iv
    List of tables and figures
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page x
        Page xi
        Page xii
        Page xiii
        Page xiv
    I. Introduction
        Page 1
        Page 2
    II. Status and distribution of sea turtles in Belize
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
    III. Stresses on sea turtles in Belize
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
    IV. Solutions to stresses on sea turtles in Belize
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
    V. Literature cited
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
    Tables and figures
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
    Appendix 1. Belize Audubon Society
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
    Appendix 2. U.S. public law 101-162 was passed by Congress in November 1989
        Page 86
    Back Cover
        Page 87
        Page 88
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Caribbean Environment Programme

UNEP United Nations Environment Programme

Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan
for Belize

Gregory W. Smith '
Karen L. Eckert 2
Janet P. Gibson 3
1Belize Audubon Society
Country Coordinator, WIDECAST-Belize
2 Executive Director, WIDECAST

Karen L. Eckert, Editor

Prepared by:

Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network

CEP Technical Report No. 18



Sea turtle stocks are declining throughout most of the Wider Caribbean region; in some
areas the trends are dramatic and are likely to be irreversible during our lifetimes. According to
the IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre's Red Data Book, persistent over-exploitation, espe-
cially of adult females on the nesting beach, and the widespread collection of eggs are largely
responsible for the endangered status of five sea turtle species occurring in the region and the
threatened status of a sixth. In addition to direct harvest, sea turtles are accidentally captured in
active or abandoned fishing gear, resulting in death to tens of thousands annually. Coral reef and
sea grass degradation, oil spills, chemical waste, persistent plastic (and other) marine debris, high
density coastal development, and an increase in ocean-based tourism have damaged or
eliminated nesting beaches and feeding grounds. Population declines are complicated by the fact
that causal factors are not always entirely indigenous. Because sea turtles are among the most
migratory of all Caribbean fauna, what appears as a decline in a local population may be a direct
consequence of the activities of peoples many hundreds of kilometers distant. Thus, while local
conservation is crucial, action is also called for at the regional level.

In order to adequately protect migratory sea turtles and achieve the objectives of CEP's
Regional Programme for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW), The Strategyfor the
Development of the Caribbean Environment Programme (1990-1995) calls for "the development
of specific management plans for economically and ecologically important species", making par-
ticular reference to endangered, threatened, or vulnerable species of sea turtle. This is consis-
tent with Article 10 of the Cartagena Convention (1983), which states that Contracting Parties
shall "individually or jointly take all appropriate measures to protect ... the habitat of depleted,
threatened or endangered species in the Convention area." Article 10 of the 1991 Protocol to the
Cartagena Convention concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol)
specifies that Parties "carry out recovery, management, planning and other measures to effect the
survival of [endangered or threatened] species" and regulate or prohibit activities having
"adverse effects on such species or their habitats". Article 11 of the SPAW Protocol declares
that each Party "shall ensure total protection and recovery to the species of fauna listed in Annex
II". All six species of Caribbean-occurring sea turtles were included in Annex II in 1991.

This CEP Technical Report is the sixth in a series of Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plans
prepared by the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Recovery Team and Conservation Network
(WIDECAST), an organization comprised of a regional team of sea turtle experts, local Country
Co-ordinators, and an extensive network of interested citizens. The objective of the recovery
action plan series is to assist Caribbean governments in the discharge of their obligations under
the SPAW Protocol, and to promote a regional capability to implement scientifically sound sea
turtle conservation programs by developing a technical understanding of sea turtle biology and
management among local individuals and institutions. Each recovery action plan summarizes
the known distribution of sea turtles, discusses major causes of mortality, evaluates the effect-
tiveness of existing conservation laws, and priorities implementing measures for stock recovery.
WIDECAST was founded in 1981 by Monitor International, in response to a recommendation by
the IUCN/CCA Meeting of Non-Governmental Caribbean Organizations on Living Resources
Conservation for Sustainable Development in the Wider Caribbean (Santo Domingo, 26-29
August 1981) that a "Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan should be prepared ...
consistent with the Action Plan for the Caribbean Environment Programme." WIDECAST is an
autonomous NGO, partially supported by the Caribbean Environment Programme.

CEP Technical Report No. 18


This document could not have been written without the assistance of people throughout
Belize. The authors would like to extend special appreciation to the staffs of Hol Chan Marine
Reserve (especially James Azueta) and Belize Audubon Society for their support and interest in
sea turtle conservation. The public awareness efforts and general invovlement of Sharon Matola
(Belize Zoo), Lou Nicolait (Belize Centre for Environmental Studies), and Joy Grant
(Programme for Belize) deserve special recognition. Jim Beveridge (Seaing is Belizing)
volunteered his boat the "Lion" and his time to assist the senior author in national surveys of sea
turtle nesting grounds in 1989 and again in 1990 -- without Jim's knowledge of Belizean waters,
these important surveys could not have been undertaken. During the 1990 expedition, Ray and
Liz Bowers kindly provided a tow, food, and shelter in "Reef Roamer II". More than 40
fishermen were interviewed for data and anecdotal knowledge of historical and contemporary sea
turtle harvest. The information obtained from these interviewees was invaluable, especially from
turtle fishermen Will Eiley, Charles Flowers, George Garbutt, Lester Garbutt, Wellington
Garbutt, Nolan Jackson, Ralph Jackson, Florencio Lino, and Wilfred Young.

The ongoing support of the Fisheries Department, especially Vincent Gillett (Fisheries
Administrator), Earl Young (Research Biologist) and Alfonso Avilez (Fisheries Technician), the
Hon. Florencio Marin (Ministry of Natural Resources), and the media in matters of sea turtle
conservation is greatly appreciated. Community-level initiatives on Ambergris Cay (Voluntary
Sea Turtle Sanctuary) and Gales Point (Manatee Bar Hawksbill Turtle Conservation Project)
have been successful because of the grassroots support of landowners and residents. In particu-
lar, Richard Slusher and Kevin Welch of Gales Point have been leaders in efforts (e.g., nest
screening) to protect hawksbill turtles at Manatee Bar. Whiteridge Farms owners (especially
Frank and Edith Eobois) provided accommodations to the senior author, land access, and use of
facilities during Manatee Bar beach surveys. Funding for survey and research activities has been
obtained from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Jo and Wayne Castleberry. Countless
miles have been logged on the beaches of Ambergris Cay and Placencia by BAS volunteers and
Earthquest in efforts to count nests and protect sea turtles. The authors and WIDECAST
regional Recovery Team 1/ dedicate this document to the future, with the hope that sea turtles
will remain an integral part of the native wildlife of Belize for many generations to come.

1/ The WIDECAST regional Recovery Team provided impetus for this document and critiqued
earlier drafts. These persons are the following: Lic. Ana Cecilia Chaves (Costa Rica), Dr. Karen
Eckert (USA), Jacques Fretey (France), John Fuller (Antigua), Molly Gaskin (Trinidad), Dr.
Julia Horrocks (Barbados), Maria Teresa Koberg (Costa Rica), Dr. Peter Pritchard (USA), Dr.
James Richardson (USA), and Dr. Georgita Ruiz (Mexico). The IUCN/SSC Marine Turtle
Specialist Group (Dr. Karen Bjorndal, Chair) also provided useful comments on an earlier draft.
Major financial support for WIDECAST has come from Monitor International, The Chelonia
Institute, the UNEP Caribbean Environment Programme, and the U. S. National Marine Fisheries
Service. Special appreciation is due Milton Kaufmann (President of Monitor International and
Founder of WIDECAST) and Robert Truland (Trustee, The Chelonia Institute) for their unwav-
ering personal commitment to WIDECAST since its inception more than a decade ago.

Page ii

Belize Sea Turtles...


Preface i
Acknowledgements ii
Table of Contents iii
List of Tables and Figures v
Abstract (English, Spanish, French) vi



2.1 Caretta caretta, Loggerhead Sea Turtle 4
2.2 Chelonia mydas, Green Sea Turtle 5
2.3 Dermochelys coriacea, Leatherback Sea Turtle 7
2.4 Eretmochelys imbricata, Hawksbill Sea Turtle 8
2.5 Lepidochelys kempi, Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle 9
2.6 Lepidochelys olivacea, Olive Ridley Sea Turtle 10


3.1 Destruction or Modification of Habitat 10
3.2 Disease or Predation 12
3.3 Over-utilization 12
3.4 Inadequate Regulatory Mechanisms 15
3.5 Other Natural or Man-made Factors 16


4.1 Manage and Protect Habitat 17
4.11 Identify essential habitat 17
4.111 Survey foraging areas 18
4.112 Survey nesting habitat 19
4.12 Develop area-specific management plans 20
4.121 Involve local coastal zone authorities 22
4.122 Develop regulatory guidelines 22
4.123 Provide for enforcement of guidelines 25
4.124 Develop educational materials 26
4.13 Prevent or mitigate degradation of nesting beaches 26
4.131 Sand mining 26
4.132 Lights 27
4.133 Beach stabilization structures 28
4.134 Beach cleaning equipment 29
4.135 Beach rebuilding projects 29

Page iii

CEP Technical Report No. 18

4.14 Prevent or mitigate degradation of marine habitat 30
4.141 Dynamiting reefs 30
4.142 Chemical fishing 31
4.143 Industrial discharges 31
4.144 At-sea dumping of garbage 31
4.145 Oil exploration, production, refining, transport 32
4.146 Agricultural runoff and sewage 33
4.147 Others (anchoring, dredging, land reclamation) 34

4.2 Manage and Protect all Life Stages 34
4.21 Review existing local laws and regulations 34
4.22 Evaluate the effectiveness of law enforcement 35
4.23 Propose new regulations where needed 36
4.231 Eggs 36
4.232 Immature turtles 36
4.233 Nesting females 37
4.234 Unprotected species 37
4.24 Augment existing law enforcement efforts 37
4.25 Make fines commensurate with product value 38
4.26 Investigate alternative livelihoods for turtle fishermen 38
4.27 Determine incidental catch and promote the use of TEDs 40
4.28 Supplement reduced populations using management techniques 41
4.29 Monitor stocks 42
4.291 Nests 42
4.292 Hatchlings 43
4.293 Immature and adult turtles 43

4.3 Encourage and Support International Cooperation 43
4.31 CITES 43
4.32 Regional treaties 45
4.33 Subregional sea turtle management 46

4.4 Develop Public Education 47
4.41 Residents 47
4.42 Fishermen 47
4.43 Tourists 47
4.44 Non-consumptive uses of sea turtles to generate revenue 48

4.5 Increase Information Exchange 48
4.51 Marine Turtle Newsletter 48
4.52 Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium (WATS) 49
4.53 WIDECAST 49
4.54 IUCN/SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group 50
4.55 Workshops on research and management 50
4.56 Exchange of information among local groups 51

Page iv

4.6 Implement Belize Sea Turtle Conservation Programme
4.61 Rationale
4.62 Goals and objectives
4.63 Activities
4.64 Results and outputs
4.65 Budget





Selected reproductive data for loggerhead turtles nesting on Amber-
gris Cay in 1990.

Reported nesting areas for sea turtles in Belize.

Selected existing and proposed Reserves in Belize.

Landing sites for sea turtles in 1982, with number and weight landed.

Landing sites for sea turtles in 1986, with number and weight landed.

Location of Belize on the Caribbean coast of Central America.

Location of the Belize barrier reef and offshore cays.

Detail of the reefs and cays of the central barrier reef lagoon.

An identification guide to sea turtles in Belize.

Belize Sea Turtles...





Page v

CEP Technical Report No. 18


There can be little doubt that sea turtles were once a prominent component of the fishing
industry in Belize. Thousands of turtles were exported live from Belize in the late 1800's, in
addition to those utilized domestically. In the early 1900's, as the value of tortoiseshell
(hawksbill sea turtle shell) increased, the fishery concentrated on hawksbills in the southern cays.
The shell industry was a profitable one, supporting at least two large schooners based at Tobacco
Cay. There was no concern about the effect of the harvest on the resource. Indeed, in 1925 the
Handbook of British Honduras described the number of sea turtles around Belize's cays as
"inexhaustible". By the 1960's, however, it was clear that a century of uncontrolled harvest had
left local populations greatly depleted.

In 1977, Fisheries Regulations were enacted to protect small juveniles, eggs, and nesting
females; the hunting of turtles was prohibited between 1 June-31 August and the export of sea
turtles and sea turtle products was banned. The new restrictions were an improvement over the
former situation, but were inadequate to promote the recovery of declining stocks. Older
fishermen attest to serious declines in the numbers of sea turtles during their lifetimes. Catch per
unit effort has dropped and turtles are considerably smaller than they were as recently as a
decade ago. Fisheries data indicate that the average weight of turtles landed fell 60% (from 163
to 67 kg) between 1982 and 1986. Not only are turtles fewer and smaller at sea, there are many
examples of beaches that once supported nesting populations, but do so no longer. Today fewer
than a dozen fishermen formally participate in the turtle fishery, and none relies on the turtles for
a primary source of income. The authors estimate that 500-800 turtles, mostly adults, are legally
sold in the markets each year. The clandestine catch is unquantified.

Five species of sea turtle are reported from the waters of Belize, but only three --
hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), green (Chelonia mydas), and loggerhead (Caretta caretta) --
are routinely encountered. Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) and Kemp's ridleys (Lepido-
chelys kempi) are very rare. Nesting is reported on more than 30 cays, as well as at some main-
land sites, but only three nesting concentrations are known. Each year, 40-70 loggerhead nests
are laid on Ambergris Cay, 30-40 hawksbill nests are laid on the southernmost cays along the
barrier reef, and 100-150 hawksbill nests are laid at Manatee Bar beach on the mainland. There
are no known concentrations of green turtles; probably fewer than 20 nest each year. Foraging
habitat is extensive along the 220 km barrier reef and around the numerous offshore cays.

The primary threats to sea turtles in Belize are the continued harvest of adults and large
juveniles, the incidental catch of turtles in trawls and other fishing gear, nesting beach
development, and the degradation of foraging grounds by anchoring, dredging, waste disposal,
and pollution. A lack of enforcement capacity hinders efforts to conserve remaining populations.
Large numbers of turtles are captured illegally (below minimum size and/or during the closed
season). The collection of eggs (illegal at all times) has been estimated to be as high as 10,000
per year. The illegal export of hawksbill shell is believed to occur clandestinely at low levels
and tortoiseshell jewelry is widely available to residents and tourists. Incidental capture and
drowning in shrimp trawls, gill nets, and longlines is also a problem, with hundreds of turtles
potentially captured in this manner every year.

Page vi

Belize Sea Turtles ...

In 1990, several conservation groups in Belize petitioned the Government to revise and
strengthen sea turtle conservation legislation. A supporting letter was sent by WIDECAST in
April 1991. In November 1991, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries announced his inten-
tion to comply with the appeal. As a result, the Fisheries (Amendment) Regulations of 1993
prohibit the collection and possession of sea turtle eggs, the take of sea turtles on land, the setting
of turtle nets within 100 yards of shore, and the capture of green and loggerhead turtles larger
than 60 cm (24 in) in shell length. Hawksbill turtles are fully protected at all times and the
closed season has been extended to encompass the main mating and nesting periods (1 April to
31 October). The maximum size limits represent a compromise position and we hope that a
moratorium on the harvest of all sea turtles will soon be declared. In the interim, protection of
breeding-age adults is important to the long-term survival of Belize's turtles; very few turtles
survive the decades required to attain sexual maturity and it is essential that they be allowed to

In addition to halting the harvest of endangered sea turtles, other measures are recomm-
ended by this Recovery Action Plan. These include surveying potential nesting and foraging
grounds, identifying important sites, and adequately protecting these sites from negative influ-
ences. In particular, a Marine Reserve in the Sapodilla Cays, a national system of moorings, and
comprehensive coastal zone management legislation are seen as priorities. Voluntary Sanctuar-
ies to protect important nesting beaches adjoining private lands on Ambergris Cay and at Mana-
tee Bar are proposed as alternatives to public reserves. Sanctuary land owners agree to com-
munity guidelines, such as lighting that does not distract sea turtles, construction set-backs, pro-
tection of beach vegetation, a ban on beach sand mining, etc. In all protected areas, community
involvement and strict enforcement of the rules will be required.

Finally, because sea turtles are highly migratory, international cooperation in addition to
local and national efforts are needed. Based on the capture of tagged turtles, it is clear that
Belize shares its sea turtle resource with adjacent Mexico and Guatemala, as well as with nations
as distant as Venezuela, the United States, and the Bahamas. Mexico has recently implemented
legislation that completely bans the capture and sale of sea turtles or their products. Belize is
undermining the efforts of Mexico by continuing to harvest sea turtles shared between the two
countries. In addition to further strengthening national sea turtle conservation legislation, it is a
recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that Belize join its neighbours in ratifying the
UNEP Convention on the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider
Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention) and its Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas
and Wildlife.

The status of sea turtle stocks in Belize has been thoroughly reviewed in this document,
and many implementing measures designed to promote their recovery have been introduced.
Beyond serving as a national blueprint for conservation action on the part of government and
non-government agencies and groups in Belize, national and international donors will find the
Plan (which details a national Sea Turtle Conservation Programme and a 3-year budget) useful in
guiding and prioritizing financial support for sea turtle protection efforts in Belize.

Page vii

CEP Technical Report No. 18


No cabe duda de que las tortugas marinas desempefiaban en el pasado un papel
important en la industrial pesquera de Belice. Miles de tortugas vivas se exportaron de Belice a
fines del siglo diecinueve, ademas de las utilizadas a nivel national. A principios del siglo
veinte, con el incremento en el valor de los careyes (el caparaz6n de la Tortuga Carey), la
industrial comenz6 a concentrarse en la Tortuga Carey que se encontraba en los cayos del sur. La
industrial de los caparazones era muy rentable y podia mantener, por lo menos, dos goletas con
base en el Cayo de Tobacco. Pero nadie se preocupaba del efecto de estas captures sobre los
recursos. En efecto, en 1925, la Guia de las Honduras Britanicas indicaba que el numero de
tortugas marinas en los cayos de Belice era "inagotable". No obstante, llegados los afios sesenta,
estaba claro que cien afios de captures incontroladas habian dejado bastante agotada la poblaci6n

En 1977 se promulgaron las Regulaciones Pesqueras para proteger a los ejemplares
j6venes de pequefio tamafio, huevos y hembras ponedoras; se prohibit la capture de tortugas
entire el primero de junio y el 31 de agosto asi como la exportaci6n de tortugas marinas y sus
products. Las nuevas restricciones mejoraron la situaci6n anterior pero no fueron suficiente
para recuperar las menguantes reserves de tortugas. Los pescadores de mayor edad confirman
que, durante sus vidas, han presenciado una reducci6n important en el numero de tortugas
marinas. La cantidad por capture ha disminuido y las tortugas son much mas pequefias que
hace tan solo diez afios. Cifras del Ministerio de Pesca indican que el peso medio de las tortugas
capturadas cay6 en un 60% (de 163 kg a 67 kg) entire 1982 y 1986. No s6lo las tortugas marinas
son menos numerosas y de menor tamafio, sino que muchas playas que solian tener poblaciones
ponedoras ahora ya no las tienen. Hoy en dia menos de doce pescadores participan formalmente
en la industrial de la pesca de tortugas y ninguno de ellos depend de las tortugas como fuente
principal de ingresos. Los autores calculan que entire 500 y 800 tortugas, adults en su mayor
parte, se venden legalmente en los mercados cada afio. No se puede cuantificar la capture illegal.

Se sabe que en las aguas de Belice hay cinco species de tortugas, pero s6lo abundan tres:
la Tortuga Carey (Eretmochelys imbricata), la Tortuga Verde (Chelonia mydas), y la Caguama
(Caretta caretta). La Tortuga Tora (Dermochelys coriacea) y la Tortuga Lora (Lepidochelys
kempi) escasean much. Se ha comprobado que las tortugas anidan en mas de 30 isletas, asi
como en algunos puntos en tierra firme, pero se conocen s6lo tres concentraciones de
anidamientos. Cada afio se hacen entire 40 y 70 nidos de Caguama en el Cayo de Ambergris,
entire 30 y 40 de las Tortugas Carey en los cayos mas meridionales, a lo largo de labarrera de
arrecifes, y de 100 y 150 de las Tortugas Carey en tierra firme en la playa de Manatee Bar. No
se conocen concentraciones de Tortugas Verdes, y probablemente se hagan menos de 20 nidos al
afo. A lo largo de la barrera de arrecifes de 220 kil6metros de longitud se extienden habitats de
forraje y alrededor de los numerosos cayos que se hallan a escasa distancia de la costa.

Las principles amenazas a las tortugas marinas de Belice son la capture incesante de
adults y de ejemplares j6venes de gran tamafio, la capture fortuita de tortugas en las redes de
arrastre y otros artes de pesca, la urbanizaci6n de las playas ponedoras y la degradaci6n de las
tierras de forraje causada por las anclas, las obras de dragado, el vertido de desechos y la
contaminaci6n. La falta de recursos para aplicar las leyes esta menoscabando los esfuerzos para

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

conservar las poblaciones sobrevivientes. Muchas tortugas se capturan de maneras ilegales (por
ser mis pequefias que el tamafio minimo y/o durante la veda). Se estima que la capture de
huevos, que esti siempre prohibida, puede alcanzar cifras tan elevadas como los 10.000 anuales.
Se cree que la exportaci6n illegal de los caparazones de Tortugas Carey se Ileva a cabo de modo
clandestine y a pequefia escala y las joyas hechas con estos caparazones se encuentran facilmente
en el mercado, tanto para residents como para turistas. Otros problems incluyen la capture for-
tuita de las tortugas y su muerte en las redes barrederas para camarones, o en redes de enmalle, y
el uso de palangres. Centenares de tortugas se capturan potencialmente de esta forma cada afio.

En 1990, various grupos conservasionistas en Belice pidieron al Gobiemo que revisara y
fortaleciera la legislaci6n para la conservaci6n de las tortugas marinas. Una carta de apoyo fue
enviada por WIDECAST en abril de 1991. En noviembre de 1991, el Ministerio de Agricultura
y Pesca anunci6 su intenci6n de complir con esta solicitud. Como resultado, los Reglamentos de
Pesca (Enmienda) de 1993 prohiben la recolecci6n y posesi6n de huevos de tortugas marinas, la
capture de tortugas marinas en tierra, la colocaci6n de grandes redes para tortugas dentro de 90
mt (100 yards) de la costa, y la capture de las Tortugas Verdes y Tortugas de Mar de mis de 60
cm (24 pulgadas) de longitud del caparacho. Las Tortugas Carey estin protegidas totalmente
todo el tiempo y la epoca de veda ha sido ampliada para incluir la mayor parte del period de
apareamiento y anidamiento (lo de abril al 31 de octubre). Los limits de tamafio maximo
representan una posici6n de compromise y confiamos que una moratoria sobre la capture de
todas las tortugas marinas sea declarada muy pronto. Entre tanto, la protection de los adults en
edad de reproduccion es important para la supervivencia a largo plazo de las tortugas de Belice;
muy pocas tortugas sobreviven las decades necesarias para alcanzar su madurez sexual y es
esencial que se les permit reproducirse.

Ademis de terminar con la capture de las tortugas marinas amenazadas, se recomiendan
otras medidas en este Plan de Acci6n de Recuperaci6n. Estas incluyen la observaci6n de tierras
potenciales para el anidamiento y el forraje, la identificaci6n de lugares importantes y su
protecci6n adecuada de cualquier influencia negative. En particular, se ha dado prioridad a una
Reserva Marina en los Cayos de Sapodilla, a un sistema national de amarres, y a la
promulgaci6n de leyes globales sobre la gesti6n de areas costeras. Como altemativa a las
reserves pfiblicas, se proponen Santuarios Libres para proteger las playas de anidamiento
importantes adyacentes a terrenos privados en el Cayo de Ambergris y en la playa de Manatee
Bar. Los propietarios de los santuarios estin de acuerdo con las directives comunitarias sobre,
por ejemplo, luces costeras que no desorienten a las tortugas marinas, retrasos en la construcci6n,
protecci6n de la vegetaci6n de playa, prohibici6n de la extracci6n de arena de playa, etc. En
todas las areas protegidas, la participaci6n comunitaria y la aplicaci6n rigurosa de las reglas
seran necesarias.

Para concluir, como las tortugas marinas migran much, ademis de los esfuerzos
comunitarios y nacionales, hay que afiadir la necesidad de la cooperaci6n international. Ajuzgar
por las captures de tortugas marcadas, esti claro que Belice compare los recursos de tortugas
con los paises vecinos de Mexico y Guatemala, asi como con paises lejanos como Venezuela, los
Estados Unidos y las Bahamas. Mexico acaba de poner en vigor una ley que prohibe toda
capture y venta de tortugas marinas y sus products. Al continuar capturando las tortugas
marinas que pertenecen a los dos paises, Belice esti socavando los esfuerzos de Mexico.

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

Ademas de continuar fortaleciendo la legislaci6n national para la conservaci6n de la tortuga
marina, es una recomendaci6n de este Plan de Acci6n que Belice siga el ejemplo de sus vecinos
y ratifique el convenio del PNUMA sobre la Protecci6n y el Desarrollo del Medio Ambiente
Marino de la Regi6n del Gran Caribe (Convenio de Cartagena) y su Protocolo sobre de Areas y
Flora y Fauna Silvestres Especialmente Protegidas (SPAW).

Este document ha revisado a fondo el status de las reserves de tortugas marinas en
Belice y ha introducido varias medidas de acci6n dirigidas a promover su recuperaci6n. Mas alla
de servir de anteproyecto de la acci6n conservadora de agencies y grupos gubermentales y no
gubermentales de Belice, el Plan (que detalla un Programa Nacional para la Conservaci6n de las
Tortugas Marinas y un presupuesto de 3 afios) sera util para donantes nacionales e inter-
nacionales porque guiara y dara prioridad al apoyo financiero para los esfuerzos de protecci6n de
las tortugas marinas en Belice.

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Belize Sea Turtles ...


II n'y a aucun doute que, dans le passe, les tortues de mer ont figure de maniere
important dans l'industrie de la peche au Belize. Des milliers de tortues etaient exportees,
vivantes, du pays a la fin du 19eme siecle, en plus de celles qui ont alimente le march local. Au
debut du siecle actuel, avec l'augmentation du prix de la carapace des tortues, (plus precisement,
celle de la tortue a ecaille) l'exportation s'est concentree sur la tortue a ecaille des bancs de sable
du sud. Cette industries etant assez important, au moins deux schooners bases au banc de sable
de Tobacco menaient en permanence cette activity. Aucune attention n'a ete pr&tee a l'effet de
cette exploitation sur les populations de tortues. En effet, en 1925, le Manuel de la peche en
Honduras britannique a decrit le nombre de tortues de mer sur les bancs du Honduras britannique
comme etant "inepuisable". Au debut des annees soixante, il etait evident qu'une decennie de
recolte incontr6lee avait reduit enormement les populations de tortues.

En 1977, des reglements relatifs a la peche ont ete mis en place pour proteger les jeunes,
les oeufs et les femelles en reproduction. La prise de tortues etait interdite du lerjuin au 31 aoit
chaque annee ainsi que l'exportation des tortues de mer et leurs sous-produits. Bien que la
nouvelle legislation ait ameliore la situation, elle etait insuffisante pour freiner la reduction des
populations de tortues. Les pecheurs plus ages temoignent de la baisse important du nombre de
tortues de mer au course des annees. Les prises a chaque sortie sont en baisse et les tortues sont
plus petites que celles qui etaient capturees il y a une decennie. Les informations relatives a la
peche indiquent que le poids moyen des tortues capturees a baisse de 60% (de 163 kg a 67 kg)
entire 1982 et 1986. Les tortues ne sont pas seulement plus petites et moins nombreuses, mais
beaucoup de plages n'accueillaient plus les tortues en reproduction. Aujourd'hui, moins de douze
pecheurs exercent l'activite de la peche de tortues et aucun d'entre eux ne vit de la prise des
tortues. I1 est estime qu'entre 500 et 800 tortues, don't la plupart sont des adults, sont vendues de
maniere legale dans les marches chaque annee. La prise clandestine ne peut 6tre quantifiee.

Les eaux du Belize accueillent cinq especes de tortues de mer, mais seulement trois
d'en-tre elles s'y trouvent regulierement. I1 s'agit de la tortue a ecaille (Eretmochelys imbricata),
la tortue verte (Chelonia mydas) et la tortue cahouanne (Caretta caretta). La tortue luth
(Dermochelys coriacea) et la tortue de Kemp (Lepidochelys kempi) sont tries rares. La
reproduction se deroule sur plus de 30 bancs de sable et dans des sites terrestres mais seules trois
concentrations de nids sont connues. Chaque annee, entire 40 et 70 nids sont faits par les tortues
cahouanne sur le Banc de sable d'Ambergris Cay, 30-40 nids de tortues a ecailles sont faits sur
les quais a l'extreme sud au long de barrieres coralliennes, et 100-150 nids de tortues a ecailles
sont faits sur la plage de Manatee Bar sur le continent. Aucune concentration de tortues vertes
n'est connue car moins de vingt font leurs nids chaque annee. I1 y a de nombreux habitats
d'alimentation tout au long du recif corallien de 220 km et autour des nombreux sables de banc
au large.

Les principles menaces aux tortues de mer au Belize sont la capture continue des adults
et des grands jeunes, la prise accidentelle des tortues dans des filets et autres equipements de
peche, la mise en valeur des plages ou pondent les tortues et la degradation des sites
d'alimentation par le mouillage, le dragage, l'evacuation des dechets et la pollution. Un manque

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

de capacity pour garantir l'application des reglements freinent les efforts pour preserver les
populationsrestantes. Un grand nombre de tortues est capture de maniere illegal (au-dessous de
la taille minimal et/ou pendant la saison fermee). La collect illegal d'oeufs (qui est
formellement interdite) a ete estimee a 10 000 oeufs/an. L'exportation illegal de la carapace de
la tortue a ecaille se deroule clandestinement a un niveau reduit et les bijoux faits de la carapace
des tortues sont disponibles pour les residents ainsi que pour les tourists. La capture
accidentelle et la noyade des tortues a l'aide de chaluts crevettiers, filets maillants et palancres
posent un problem particulier car des centaines des tortues sont capturees potentielment de cette
maniere chaque annee.

En 1990, plusieurs groups de protection en Belize ont price le Gouvernement de reviser
et de renforcer la legislation relative a la protection des tortues de mer. Une lettre d'appui a ete
envoyee par WIDECAST en avril 1991. En novembre 1991, le Ministre de l'agriculture et de la
peche a annonce son intention d'observer les reclamations. Comme resultat, la legislation de
1993 sur la peche (corrigee) interdit la collect et la possession des oeufs de tortues de mer, la
capture de tortues de mer sur terre, l'instauration des nids de tortues a pres de 100 yards du
rivage, et la capture des tortues vertes et des tortues cahouannes plus grandes que 60 cm (24
pouces) de longueur. Les tortues a ecailles sont protegees jusqu'au bout et la saison fermee a ete
prolongee pour couvrir la period principal d'accouplement et de ponte (du ler avril au 31
octobre). La limited de grosseur maximale represent une position de compromise et nous
souhaitons qu'un moratorium de la recolte de toutes tortues de mer sera bient6t declare. Dans
l'attente, il est important de proteger les adults en age de se reproduire pour la survive a long
terme des tortues du Belize; tries peu de tortues survivent le nombre de decennies necessaires
pour atteindre la maturity sexuelle et il est primordial de les permettre de se reproduire.

En plus de l'interdiction du ramassage des tortues de mer menacees, d'autres measures sont
recommandees par ce Plan d'action de sauvetage. I1 s'agit de la surveillance des terrains de ponte
et d'alimentation eventuels, de l'identification des sites important et la protection ade-quate de
ces demiers de toute influence negative. A cet regard, la Reserve marine du banc de Sapodilla, un
system national de mouillage et une legislation detaillee relative a la gestion de la zone c6tiere
seront considers comme des measures prioritaires. La creation de sanctuaires vol-ontaires pour
la protection des plages de reproduction importantes connexes aux terrains prives de Banc de
sable d'Ambergis et dans la Baie du Lamentin sont proposes comme des alternatives aux reserves
publiques. Les proprietaires de ces terrains accepteraient les directives proposees, telles que
l'eclairage qui ne perturberait pas les tortues de mer, l'arr&t de la construction, la protection de la
vegetation des plages, l'interdiction de l'exploitation du sable des plages, etc. Dans les zones
protegees la participation de la communaute locale et l'application strict de la reglementation
seront necessaires.

Enfin, etant donned que les tortues de mer sont de grands migrateurs, la cooperation
international ainsi que des efforts nationaux et locaux seront necessaires. I1 est evident, vu que
les tortues portant des etiquettes sont egalement capturees, que Belize partage ses populations de
tortues avec des pays voisins tels que le Mexique et le Guatemala ainsi qu'avec des pays aussi
distant que le Venezuela, les Etats-Unis et les Bahamas. Le Mexique a recemment mis en
application une legislation qui interdit formellement la capture et la vente des tortues de mer et
de leurs products. Belize porte prejudice aux efforts du Mexique en continuant de capture les

Page xii

Belize Sea Turtles ...

tortues de mer qui sont partages par les deux pays. De plus, pour reforcer la legislation relative a
la protection national des tortues de mer, le Plan d'action pour la sauvegarde des tortues de mer
recommande qu'il se joigne a ses voisins en ratifiant la Convention du PNUE sur la protection et
la mise en valeur du milieu marin de la region des Caraibes (Convention de Carthagene) et de
son Protocole relatif aux zones et a la vie sauvage specialement protegees (SPAW).

La situation des populations de tortues de mer au Belize a ete passee en revue en detail
dans le present document et beaucoup de measures d'application visant a promouvoir leur
sauvegarde ont ete introduites. Au-dela de sa function de directive national pour des actions de
conservation entreprises par les agencies et groups gouvernementaux et non-gouvernmentaux au
Belize, les donateurs nationaux et internationaux trouveront dans le Plan (qui donnent les details
sur le Programme pour la conservation des tortues de mer ainsi que sur un budget de 3 ans) des
informations utiles leur permettant d'etablir un ordre de priority pour le financement des efforts
de sauvegarde des tortues de mer au Belize.

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

Page xiv

Belize Sea Turtles ...


Situated south of the Yucatan peninsula, Belize (Figure 1) has 22,963 km2 of land area
(including 689 km2 on 450 offshore cays), 280 km of coastline, 23,657 km2 of territorial sea
extending 20 km into the Caribbean Sea, and a spectacular barrier reef that is second in length
only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The barrier reef extends 220 km from the Mexican border
to the Sapodilla Cays. Along Ambergris Cay the barrier reef is only a few hundred metres
offshore, whereas it is more than 40 km offshore at Placencia (Figures 2a,b). Seaward of the
barrier reef, the continental margin is a series of discontinuous marine ridges with NNE-SSW
orientation. On two of these ridges coral atolls have developed, separated by waters 360-1100 m
deep. A third atoll (Turneffe Islands) is situated between Lighthouse Reef and the barrier reef.
Seaward of the marine ridge supporting Glover's and Lighthouse Reefs is an escarpment
descending more than 4,000 m into the Cayman Trough (Hartshorn et al., 1984). Though
physically located in Central America, Belize has strong cultural and economic ties with the
Caribbean, especially the former British colonies comprising the Caribbean Community. Belize
gained its independence from Great Britain in 1981.

There can be little doubt that sea turtles were once a prominent component of the fishing
industry in Belize. Turtle hunting "constituted the most important form of Colonial fishing" in
Belize for 250 years (ca. 1650-1900) and buccaneers catching turtles and manatees were most
likely the first Europeans to settle in Belize (Craig, 1966). Both green turtles and hawksbills
were actively hunted during this period. Henderson (1809, in Craig, 1966) reported that sea
turtles were mostly eaten locally and were "preferred by the settlers". In the latter part of the
19th century, large numbers of green turtles, usually weighing less than 60 lb (27 kg) each, were
transported alive to England. During the late 1860's, some 2,000 to 6,000 live turtles were
exported from Belize annually. By the 1890's, these exports had dwindled to 50-150 turtles
annually. Records indicate that the local demand was great enough to require the import of
2,307 turtles in 1887 (Handbook of British Honduras, 1888). Demand remained high throughout
the twentieth century. During the 1980's, an estimated 1,000 turtles were legally landed and sold
each year (section 3.3). The illegal catch was (and remains) unquantified. In 1925, the
Handbook of British Honduras described the number of sea turtles around Belize's cays as
"inexhaustible". Today sea turtles are endangered in the Caribbean Sea (Groombridge, 1982)
and local fishermen reminisce about the days when turtles were much more abundant, both on
the nesting beaches and at sea, than they are now.

As the value of turtle shell, and hawksbill shell in particular, increased, hunters turned to
using nets instead of harpoons to avoid damaging the valuable scutes (=shell plates). According
to Craig (1966), "substantial fortunes were made in British Honduras [now Belize] when the
market for turtle shell was expanding". The industry was well organized. Investors advanced
money to boat owners for repairs and the purchase of equipment in return for an exclusive option
to buy their catch at a favourable price. Based on interviews with elderly fishermen, Smith
(1989) was able to gather specific information about the sea turtle industry in the early 1900's.
The fishery concentrated on hawksbills and at that time was centered in the southern cays.
Fishermen placed their nets at sites (called "set spots" or "sets") well known to catch turtles,
usually sleeping or resting areas. Only the shells were sold, usually at Brodies, and they brought
a high price (B$ 10-40/lb). It was a large industry, supporting at least two 60-70 ft schooners

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

based at Tobacco Cay. The schooners took local fishermen with 16 ft (5 m) cat boats on board
and fished for hawksbills in Belizean waters and beyond, apparently traveling as far south as

By the 1960's, sea turtle populations appeared greatly depleted and few fishermen
continued to focus their efforts on catching turtles. Those who participated in the fishery
typically netted greens, hawksbills, and loggerheads during the mating season (March-April) and
often with the use of wooden decoys to attract and ensnare males. Rebel (1974) reported that the
meat from a large loggerhead was worth about $25.00 [N.B. we assume US$]. All three species
could also be captured during the nesting season by placing entangling nets just offshore the
nesting beaches (Craig, 1966). At the time of Rebel's (1974) writing, "approximately 75% of ...
turtles [were] caught in nets, about 25% [were] harpooned, and a few [were] turned on the
beaches." We estimate that 500-800 turtles (mostly adults) were sold legally in local markets in
1990, of which some 60% were greens, 30% were loggerheads, and 10% were hawksbills. In-
formed opinion is that the illegal catch (mostly small juveniles speared by divers) may be nearly
equivalent to the reported catch. International trade, especially in hawksbill shell, was signifi-
cant until recently; sources indicate it continues at low volume clandestinely. The Fisheries
Regulations of 1977 were enacted to protect small juveniles at sea, eggs, and nesting females on
the beach; a short closed season was declared (1 June-31 August) and the export of sea turtles
and their products was banned. Revised legislation was adopted in 1993 (see section 4.21).

Miller (1984) estimated there were 20-30 "full-time turtle fishermen"; Gillett (1987)
estimated 15-20. Today at most 10 fishermen routinely set nets for turtles. In addition, those
who hunt lobster, conch or finfish will take a turtle if they come across one, turtles are
sometimes chased with skiffs and then hooked once they tire, and mating turtles are grabbed or
harpooned opportunistically. With more than 3,000 licensed fishermen in Belize and lobster
season lasting eight months, it is very possible that large numbers of hawksbills are taken
incidental to the lobster fishery (Smith, 1989). Fishermen often camp on small coral cays during
their two or three days at sea and in light of local habits concerning the use of turtles, it would be
surprising if they did not consume turtles and/or their eggs whenever adult females emerge onto
these cays to nest. Almost nothing is known regarding the extent of the illegal subsistence take
of turtles at sea or on the nesting beaches. Divers are definitely catching young turtles,
particularly hawksbills and greens, which rest under ledges and coral heads. Also, some are
taken in fish traps. Finally, it has been estimated that 10,000 eggs are taken each year, despite
the fact that such collection is prohibited by law (Miller, 1984).

Older fishermen interviewed by Smith (1989) attested to "definite changes in the
numbers of sea turtles." Some who had been lighthouse keepers or had grown up on Half Moon
Cay remembered 8-10 nests per week, or hundreds per season, or so many green turtles that they
were digging up previously laid eggs and even nesting during the day. Northern Two Cays
(Sandbore and Northern Cay) are also reported to have had hundreds of green turtles nesting in
decades past; 15 were seen on the beach one night 15-20 years ago. Today nesting is rare, with
fewer than 10 nests reported per year. Similarly, the Sapodilla Cays, especially Hunting, Nicolas
and Lime Cays, once had large numbers of hawksbills nesting, so many that they, too,
unavoidably excavated existing nests during egg-laying. One source estimated at least 100
hawksbill nests in the Pompion-Ranguana-Sapodilla Cays area; another indicated maybe 60 nests

Page 2

Belize Sea Turtles ...

on Nicolas Cay alone (Smith, 1989). Today the Sapodilla Cays are still relatively important
nesting areas, but numbers are well below described historical levels. In 1990, fewer than 20
nests had been laid on the Sapodilla Cays by mid-September. Younger fishermen interviewed
were less certain of a decrease in the numbers of sea turtles, though they usually thought there
had been some decline. In general, local fishermen believe that the take of young turtles by
divers is responsible for the observed decline in turtle numbers.

Gillett (1987) recommended a four point plan to the Second Western Atlantic Turtle
Symposium "if we wish to conserve our marine turtles." First, a public education programme to
inform residents and visitors about the laws protecting sea turtles, and the necessity of
conserving depleted marine resources. Second, resources and facilities are needed to enable the
government to enforce existing sea turtle protection laws. Third, "comprehensive research
activities" are needed so as to devise a management programme, including the best way to utilize
the resource and prevent its over-exploitation. Finally, the government must economically
improve the local fishing industry. The wisdom of this agenda endures to the present day and is
supported by this Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan. The objectives of this Plan are to (1)
compile existing data on the status and distribution of sea turtles in Belize, (2) assess the role of
sea turtles in the culture and economy, (3) discuss contemporary factors threatening sea turtles
and their habitats, (4) provide resource and habitat management recommendations, as well as
solutions to existing threats, and (5) review existing national and international laws protecting
sea turtles, suggesting improvements where desirable.

Based on background information provided in this document and the many
recommendations contained herein, a national sea turtle programme and budget has been out-
lined in section 4.6. The programme recognizes and supports the many sea turtle conservation
efforts already underway in Belize (e.g., field surveys, public education, designation of protected
areas, constraints on coastal construction) and priorities future activities. What is most needed
is (1) an unconditional ban on the harvest of sea turtles and their eggs and (2) the long-term
protection of nesting beaches and foraging areas. We hope the Fisheries (Amendment) Regula-
tions of 1993, which protect hawksbill turtles and eggs (all species) year-around and impose a
seven-month annual closed season on green and loggerhead turtles, will soon lead to a national
moratorium on sea turtle harvest. Studies designed to assess habitat usage, determine stock
origins, and evaluate the extent to which stocks are shared internationally are also needed. Field
surveys to identify critical habitat should be undertaken so that informed decisions regarding
protected areas can be made. In addition to serving as a national blueprint for conservation
action on the part of government and non-government agencies and groups in Belize, it is hoped
that national and international donors will find the programme outline and recommendations use-
ful in guiding and prioritizing financial support for sea turtle conservation programmes in Belize.


In the Caribbean Sea, five species of sea turtle are recognized as Endangered and a sixth,
the loggerhead turtle, as Vulnerable by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) (Groombridge,
1982). Sea turtles are harvested throughout the region for meat, shell, oil, and skins. They are
accidentally captured in active or abandoned fishing gear, resulting in the death of tens of
thousands of turtles each year. Oil spills, chemical waste and persistent plastic debris, as well as

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

the ongoing degradation of important nesting beaches and feeding grounds, also threaten the
continued existence of Caribbean populations. Three species of sea turtle are routinely
encountered in Belize between the coast and the barrier reef: the hawksbill (Eretmochelys
imbricata), green turtle (Chelonia mydas), and loggerhead (Caretta caretta). In addition, older
fishermen recall having seen one or two extremely large, black, "ugly" turtles in their youth.
Their descriptions clearly refer to an occasional leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
venturing inside the barrier reef. There are undocumented reports of Kemp's ridleys.

Three nesting concentrations of loggerheads and hawksbills are known. Each year, 40-70
nests are laid by loggerheads on Ambergris Cay, 30-40 hawksbill nests are laid on the
southernmost cays along the barrier reef, and more than 100 hawksbill nests are laid in the
Manatee Bar area on the mainland (see Figures 2a and 2b for locations). There are no known
concentrations of green turtle nests; historical rookeries have been decimated. Fewer than five
green turtles nest on Ambergris Cay each year, and perhaps fewer than 20 per year in the rest of
the nation. Extensive foraging habitat is available, including coral reefs and sea grass meadows.
Given the extent and near pristine condition of many of the reefs even today, Belize has the
potential for harbouring a large hawksbill population.

2.1 Caretta caretta, Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Residents refer to the loggerhead as "logga" or "cahuama" and recognize it by the large
head and thick, somewhat tapered carapace (=shell) often encrusted by barnacles. Nesting
females in Florida USA average 92 cm in shell length (straight-line, nuchal notch to posterior
tip) (range 81-110 cm; n=194) and 116 kg (255 lb) (range 71.7-180.7 kg; n=261) (Ehrhart and
Yoder, 1978). There are typically five pair of lateral scutes (=shell plates) (Figure 3). The large
head and strong jaws are necessary adaptations to a diet of mollusks and hard-shelled crabs;
sponges, tunicates, fishes, and plants are also eaten (Dodd, 1988). In Belize, Craig (1966)
examined stomach contents from nine loggerheads and found they had been "feeding exclusively
on spiny lobster and soldier crabs". Carr et al. (1982) concluded that juvenile loggerheads were
more numerous in the south than along the northern coast, and that the "most abundant mature
turtles in residence are loggerheads." The latter conclusion is indirectly supported by 1980-1982
data showing that loggerheads were landed more often than were green turtles or hawksbills
(Miller, 1984). Smith (1989) stated that "medium to large" loggerheads occur in Belizean waters
year around, but larger numbers seem to migrate in during the mating and nesting season.
Loggerheads previously tagged in Florida and the Bahamas have been captured in Belize.
Nesting populations may be shared with adjoining stocks in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Loggerheads are seen mating March through May along the outer reef (Smith, 1989) and
subsequently nest at Ambergris Cay (Table 1), Glover's Reef, Lighthouse Reef, and at scattered
locations throughout the offshore cays from May through August (Table 2). Nesting on
Ambergris Cay (the most studied nesting site) is nocturnal and typically occurs on the dry beach
platform, rarely in the tidal zone and rarely in the vegetation. In low-lying areas, females may
crawl up into supralittoral grassy vegetation, apparently in an effort to locate suitably dry
substrate. Nests laid in low-lying areas or too close to the water line are periodically
wave-washed; this reduces hatch success. There is also some loss of eggs to erosion. Based on
data collected elsewhere in the Western Atlantic, each female would be expected to deposit 1-6

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

clutches averaging 120 eggs each at 12-14 day intervals during the nesting season (summarized
by Dodd, 1988). Individual turtles do not generally nest every year. Most females return to the
nesting beach every second or third year, although remigration intervals as long as seven years
have been reported (e.g., Richardson et al., 1978; Bjorndal et al., 1983). Moll (1985) observed
two loggerheads nesting on Placencia Peninsula and was told by resident fishermen that both
loggerheads and greens "nest along sparsely inhabited sections of the peninsula throughout the
summer." Offshore, males are commonly seen by SCUBA divers cruising just outside the barrier
reef from late March through May. The males are curious and have been known to approach
within a few feet to investigate divers (James Azueta, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, pers. comm.).

Miller (1984) estimated that an average of 40 females nested in Belize annually during
1979-1982. Based on the number of nests counted in recent years, the annual nesting population
is probably somewhat less than 40. Ambergris Cay is clearly the most important site. We
estimate that the cay receives about half of all loggerhead nests laid. During a 1990 survey of
Ambergris Cay, 95 crawls, including at least 33 nests, were documented between 14 May and 25
August; hatch success averaged about 68% (n=18, range 9-93%) (Smith, 1990a). Elsewhere in
the region nesting is reported from the Caribbean coasts of Mexico and Central America, the
Atlantic coast of South America from Venezuela to Brazil, and selected eastern Caribbean
islands (summarized by Dodd, 1988). The largest rookeries in the world are located in Florida
(Atlantic coast, USA) and on Masirah Island (Oman).

Some residents believe that there are two 'types' of loggerhead living in Belizean waters.
The larger of the two (the "regular" loggerhead) is usually found on the front side of the reef and
the smaller, fatter type (the "mainland", "river", or "white eye" loggerhead) consumes an
abundance of conch, lives near river mouths and close to the mainland, and bites (Smith, 1989).
It is likely that these two 'types' refer to size classes of the same species and suggest that
preferred habitats differ among life stages. It is not known whether the numbers of loggerheads
inhabiting the waters of Belize have remained constant, increased or declined over the years.
However, it is clear that Belize provides nesting habitat to gravid females, as well as potentially
important developmental habitat to juveniles. Adults, juveniles, and eggs are harvested (see
section 3.3). Two loggerheads turned while nesting on South Water Cay in 1989 were later
re-leased after a tourist paid B$ 150 [N.B. B$ 1 = US$ 0.50] each for them (Smith, 1989).

2.2 Chelonia mydas, Green Sea Turtle

The green turtle, usually referred to as "turtle" or "tur'kle", is recognized by its round,
blunt beak with serrated cutting edges and carapace plates (=scutes) that do not overlap one
another (cf hawksbill, section 2.4) (Figure 3). There is one pair of prominent scales situated
between the eyes. At Tortuguero, Costa Rica, an important green turtle nesting beach south of
Belize, breeding females average 100.2 cm straight-line carapace length (sd=5.0 cm, n=2,107)
(Bjorndal and Carr, 1989). In Belize, green turtles have been seen mating "on the front side of
the reef". They nest in low density on several offshore cays, including Northern Two Cays, Half
Moon Cay, Long Cay (Glover's Reef), Ambergris Cay (Smith, 1989, 1990b), and the southern
cays (Table 2). Miller (1984) estimated that an average of 19 females nested in Belize annually
from 1979-1982. The species is considerably rarer today than in the past when Northern Two
Cays and Half Moon Cay apparently received hundreds of nests per year (see Introduction). Carr

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et al. (1982) reported several sites where the species formerly nested but now does so only
sporadically, or not at all. Average nest frequency is not known, but in 1991 a lone green turtle
nested six times in a 40-ft section of beach on Ambergris Cay (6-7 green turtle nests were laid
there in 1989; none in 1990). On the basis of information available from other areas, 2-6 nests
(125-150 eggs each) are probably laid per female every 2-3 years. In Belize the primary nesting
season extends from June through August.

Individual green turtles do not remain in Belizean waters throughout their lives.
Hatchlings emerge from their nests, scurry to the sea, orient offshore in a swimming frenzy that
persists over a period of days, and ultimately enter offshore convergences and weed lines. It is
well known, for example, that Sargassum seaweed rafts shelter hatchling green turtles and also
harbour a diverse, specialized fauna, including many kinds of small fishes, crustaceans, worms,
mollusks, tunicates, and coelenterates; these may provide food for the young turtles (Carr,
1987a). The turtles remain epipelagic (surface dwelling in the open sea) for an unknown period
of time (perhaps 1-3 years) before taking up residence in continental shelf habitats. After leaving
the open sea, they feed primarily on sea grasses such as Thalassia testudinum (Bjorndal, 1982,
1985), commonly referred to as "turtle grass", which grows in relatively shallow water. Field
studies indicate that individual turtles maintain feeding "scars" by returning to the same area of
sea grass meadow to forage each day (Ogden et al., 1983). These scars, or grazing plots, are
maintained by regular cropping for several months and the more digestible newer growth (higher
in protein, lower in lignin) is preferred (Bjomdal, 1980). When the cropped grasses show signs
of stress (blade thinning, increased inter-nodal distance), the turtle apparently abandons the scar
and moves on to form another.

Green turtles travel extensively during the first decades of their lives and in the years
preceding reproductive maturity take up temporary residence in many locations (Carr et al.,
1978). They may travel thousands of kilometers in the Caribbean Sea before the urge to
reproduce impels them to migrate to mating and nesting grounds, the latter presumed to be their
natal (=birth) beach. Caribbean green turtles reach sexual maturity at an estimated 18-36 years
of age (reviewed by Frazer and Ladner, 1986). After reproducing, there is some evidence that
turtles return to resident foraging grounds (=feeding areas). Therefore, the movements of adult
turtles are likely to be less extensive than those of juveniles, since adults move seasonally
between relatively fixed feeding and breeding areas. In Belizean waters, green turtles of varying
sizes are observed foraging throughout the year. The offshore habitat, protected by the barrier
reef, apparently provides good foraging areas with plentiful sea grasses. These waters are
unquestionably important habitat for green turtles. Schools of 12-50 green turtles swimming
together, usually seen inside the reef, were reported by many persons during recent interviews
(Smith, 1989). Several sightings, mostly in sea grass meadows, were documented by Smith and
co-workers during recent habitat surveys (Smith, 1989, 1990b).

Many of the green turtles encountered in Belizean waters are probably migrants. Tagged
juveniles from Florida (Witham, 1980) and adults from Mexico and Costa Rica (Smith, 1990b)
have been caught. [N.B. Most turtle fishermen do not bother to return the tags, usually saying
that they sent one back once and never received any reply.] Turtle fishermen report concen-
trations arriving in November and departing in March. One resident reported a school of 1,000
or more in the open ocean between Glover's and Lighthouse Reef, migrating south about 9 years

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

ago. While such estimates cannot easily be validated, there is an impression among fishermen in
southern Belize that a pulse of green turtles moves through their waters seasonally. The turtles
are described as the "big turtles from Mexico". When the turtles migrate in during the winter
they aggregate on grassy banks about 18 feet (5.5 m) deep near the Robinson Point area where
one fishermen, Will Eiley, catches 8-10 turtles per week during the open season. They also con-
centrate and are caught (by setting nets where they gather to sleep during the night) in the
Mullins River area, Monkey River area, and south toward Punta Gorda near the coast (Smith,
1989). Based on recent in-depth interviews with turtle fishermen (Smith, 1990b), the annual
harvest is estimated to include several hundred green turtles.

Some persons believe that there are actually two 'types' of green turtle present in coastal
waters. One type (the "Mexican" or "travelling" turtle) is described as being much larger with
green skin; the other smaller with white skin (Smith, 1989). As with the loggerhead (section
2.1), these 'types' no doubt represent size classes of the same species. Thus, Belize provides the
green turtle with nesting habitat and also developmental habitat for juvenile age classes. Many
local fishermen recall the release of "thousands" of young green turtles in Belizean waters in the
past and one man interviewed had actually participated in their release. These stories most likely
refer to the activities of "Operation Green Turtle", an international effort coordinated by the late
Dr. Archie Carr that released countless young captive-raised green turtles at selected sites
throughout the Caribbean in an effort to increase populations in the region. The long-term reper-
cussions of these releases, pro or con, have not been evaluated.

2.3 Dermochelys coriacea, Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherbacks, locally referred to as "three-keel" or "trunk" turtles, are the largest of the
sea turtles. Females nesting in the Caribbean typically weigh 300-500 kg (650-1100 lb). The
largest leatherback on record is a male that stranded on the coast of Wales in 1988 and weighed
916 kg (2015 lb) (Morgan, 1989). The species is easily distinguished from other sea turtles
because it lacks a bony shell, having instead a slightly flexible skin-covered carapace. The
smooth, black skin is spotted with pale yellow or white. The carapace is strongly tapered, mea-
sures 130-165 cm (straight-line) total length, and is raised into seven prominent ridges (Figure
3). Powerful front flippers extend nearly the length of the body. Adults are accomplished
divers, having been recorded at depths exceeding 1,000 m in waters off St. Croix, USVI (Eckert
et al., 1989). Leatherbacks feed predominantly on jellyfish and other soft-bodied prey (Den
Hartog and Van Nierop, 1984; Davenport and Balazs, 1991). They are found in the tropics, as
well as in cold Canadian and European waters; they have the most extensive range of any reptile.

Leatherbacks are rarely encountered in Belize and are not known to nest. It is doubtful
that they were ever common in the area. The extensive barrier reef formation probably acts as an
effective deterrent, since this "soft-shelled" turtle is easily abraded and injured. Individuals may
enter near shore waters only by accident. One person mentioned during a recent interview that
he had once been given a "10-12 inch" juvenile found near shore (Smith, 1989). The turtle was
placed in a tank and subsequently died. An adult washed ashore dead 6-10 years ago on
Turneffe Atoll (G. W. Miller, pers. comm., 1990). Several sightings have been reported outside
the barrier reef by divers. Carr et al. (1982) reported that adult leatherbacks are "occasionally
sighted, usually 20-25 miles off the mainland, where they appear to be migrating."

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2.4 Eretmochelvs imbricata, Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawksbills, sometimes referred to as "oxbulls", of varying sizes are present in the reefs
year around. The species is distinguished by a narrow, pointed beak which presumably it uses to
pry sponges and other soft-bodied organisms from the reef. The carapace is often posteriorly
serrated and the carapace scutes overlap, like shingles on a roof (Figure 3). Two pair of scales
are located directly between the eyes (cf one pair in green turtles, a variable number in
loggerheads). Adults rarely exceed 80 kg (175 lb) and a straight-line carapace length of about 90
cm (Pritchard et al., 1983; Witzell, 1983). Bright mottled colouration (brown, orange, gold) is
common. Seasonal egg-laying occurs on several sandy beaches. During a recent national
survey, 26 of 30 sites where nesting occurred had hawksbill or suspected hawksbill nests (Smith,

Hawksbills are "spongivores" feeding on reef-associated sponges in the Caribbean
region. Sponges contributed 95.3% of the total dry mass of all food items in digestive tract
samples from 61 animals from seven Caribbean countries (Meylan, 1988). In Belize, many turtle
fishermen describe finding the remains of sponges in the digestive systems of hawksbills they
have caught. Local fishermen have also observed hawksbills feeding on seasonally abundant
jellyfish, referred to as "thimbles". The barrier reef appears to be an excellent foraging ground
for hawksbill turtles. Individuals in all size classes occur in Belizean waters throughout the year.
At the present time, juveniles are described as common on the reef and directly behind it.
Glover's Reef in particular has been described as having "lots of small hawksbills" (Smith,
1989). Nonetheless, one fisherman who has fished Glover's Reef for 50 years, including netting
hawksbills, reports that hawksbills are now relatively scarce (Ralph Jackson, pers. comm.).

Hawksbills have proven difficult to study and little is known about Caribbean
populations. Gravid females often nest on isolated beaches, sometimes flanked by exposed coral
and rock. Nests are generally concealed in beach vegetation and except for a faint asymmetrical
crawl (ca. 0.7 m wide) leading to and from the ocean, there is seldom any obvious evidence of
the visit unless the eggs have been exhumed by predators. In Belize, hawksbills are seen mating
at the same time (March-May) as other sea turtles along the outer reef and offshore some of the
outer southern cays (Smith, 1989). Recent ground surveys have defined the nesting season as
May to October "and possibly November" (Smith, 1990b). There was a definite peak in nesting
activity in late August and early September 1991 at Manatee Bar, the largest hawksbill colony in
Belize (Smith, 1991). Average clutch size is unknown, but is reported to be 127.8 eggs (range
64-175, n=33) in Barbados (Horrocks et al., 1989), 142.7 eggs (n=75) on Buck Island, St. Croix
(Hillis, 1992), and about 150 eggs (range 65-215, n=255) in Antigua (Corliss et al., 1989). The
hawksbill study in Antigua has revealed that females nest an average of five times per year at
two-week intervals (Richardson et al., 1989).

Moll (1985) concluded that hawksbills are solitary nesters in Belize, with "no evidence of
nesting concentrations anywhere", and that most nesting occurred on the offshore cays of the
barrier reef (mostly the Sapodilla Group), rather than on the mainland. However, it has now
been demonstrated that Manatee River Bar, a Special Development Area on the mainland (Table
3), is a particularly good rookery and that Belize as a whole may support 200-250 hawksbill
nests per year on the cays and mainland (Table 2). Based on an annual frequency of five nests

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

per female, we can estimate that 40-50 hawksbills nest each year in Belize. Numbers of crawls
(including successful and unsuccessful nesting attempts) are much higher than the reported
numbers of nests because in some areas a female fails many times, usually due to roots or hard
sand, before egg-laying is successful. During the 1989 national survey, for example, 24 failed
hawksbill nesting attempts were reported on Long Coco Cay and only one successful nest.
Similarly, 34 "false nests" were reported on Frank's Cay in the Sapodilla Group; apparently there
were no successful nests on that cay (Smith, 1989).

On 23 September 1990, 160 nests were counted on an 8 km stretch of beach south of the
Manatee River Bar. The count was accurate (although not representative of the entire season
since nesting was still occurring) because nests were "marked" by the presence of eggshells
surrounding a cavity excavated by small mammals. In 1991, a more thorough survey (15 May -
1 November) documented 108 nests on the same 8 km. On average, fewer than one nest per
night was recorded during May through mid-August, 1-2+ nests per night in September, and
again fewer than one nest per night in October (Smith, 1991). An intensive study of hawksbills
at Jumby Bay, Antigua (West Indies), found that females deposited about 700 eggs per season;
with predator-free hatch success averaging about 80%, each female was able to produce about
560 hatchlings (Corliss et al., 1989). From these data we estimate that 22-25 hawksbills
produced >15,000 eggs at Manatee Bar in 1991. Unfortunately, virtually all the eggs laid are
destroyed by predators (section 3.2).

There are few places in the Caribbean Sea that can claim the density of hawksbill nests
documented near Manatee Bar (cf Meylan, 1989). To the south, an estimated 380-760 hawksbill
nests are laid per year on the Manabique Peninsula, about 50 km of beach that comprise the
Caribbean coast of Guatemala (Rosales-Loessener, 1987). To the north, as many as 1000+ nests
are laid annually on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. A recent review by Frazier (1992) indicated
150 to >300 nests per year in Campeche (Isla Aguada-Chenkan; possibly this is only 50% of the
annual total), >50 nests at Celestun-El Palmar, 200-400 nests at Las Coloradas-El Cuyo, and
about 200 on Isla Holbox. Other regionally important colonies may exist in Nicaragua and
Panama; some of the Eastern Caribbean islands (e.g., Mona Island, Puerto Rico; the Grenadines;
Long Island, Antigua) may also be significant. Cuba is no doubt of regional importance, but
little is known of nest density or the current status of hawksbill populations there (Groombridge
and Luxmoore, 1989).

The status of the hawksbill is precarious throughout the Wider Caribbean. In a recent
review, Groombridge and Luxmoore (1989) concluded that "around half of the known nesting
populations are known or suspected to be in decline; in particular, the entire Western
Atlantic-Caribbean region is greatly depleted." In a report prepared for the Second Western
Atlantic Turtle Symposium, Meylan (1989) wrote that nearly all Caribbean countries receive
fewer than 100 nesting females per year. With so few known nesting concentrations, Belize
clearly has a vital role to play in the conservation of this endangered turtle.

2.5 Lepidochelvs kempi, Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

The extent to which Kemp's ridleys enter our waters is unknown. During a recent
interview, a young fishermen noted that he had seen two Kemp's ridleys and that he had identi-

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

fled them with "the help of a book". Many fishermen report catching "bastard" turtles (Smith,
1989). The diminutive Kemp's ridley is gray in colour as an immature and primarily olive green
as an adult (Pritchard et al., 1983). The carapace is round, often as wide as it is long, and
carapace scutes do not overlap one another (cf. hawksbill sea turtle, section 2.4). According to
Ross et al. (1989), adults weigh 60-90 lb (27-41 kg) and have a shell length of 23-30 inches
(58-76 cm). The species is carnivorous and eats mostly crabs, but also preys upon other
crustaceans, shellfish, jellyfish, sea urchins, starfish, and fish. With the exception of a single
recapture from Caribbean Nicaragua of a "head-started" individual (Manzella et al., 1991), which
may have displayed altered behaviour due to having been held captive during its first year
(Woody, 1991), Kemp's ridleys appear to be confined to the Gulf of Mexico and temperate
northern Atlantic. Unarguably the most endangered sea turtle in the world, the total adult
population is thought to number no more than 900 females and an unknown number of males
(Ross et al., 1989). The species nests almost exclusively in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico.

2.6 Lepidochelvs olivacea, Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

There are no records of olive ridleys foraging or nesting in Belize, nor would the species
be expected to occur. Olive ridleys are similar in appearance to Kemp's ridleys (section 2.5),
having a nearly round carapace (width about 90% of the length) and an adult colour of olive
green or brown dorsally and yellowish white ventrally. The turtle rarely exceeds 100 lb (45 kg)
(Pritchard et al., 1983). Each front flipper bears a single claw, the horny beak may be finely
serrated, and carapace scutes do not overlap one another. The lateral scutes (those to either side
of the median on the shell) are divided into 5-9 pairs, considerably more than other sea turtles
which typically have 4-5 pairs. In the western Atlantic, olive ridleys have been reported from
Brazil northward to Venezuela (Pritchard, 1969) but significant levels of nesting appear to occur
only in Suriname, primarily at Eilanti Beach (Schulz, 1975). Olive ridleys nesting in Suriname
have declined considerably in recent years from about 3,000 nests per year in the late 1960's to
fewer than 600 nests per year today (Reichart and Fretey, 1992). Incidental catch and drowning
in shrimp trawls has been implicated in their demise. Diffuse nesting occurs in northwestern
Guyana and in French Guiana (Reichart, 1989).


3.1 Destruction or Modification of Habitat

The entire coast of Belize is protected by the second largest barrier reef in the world and its
associated coral cays. Immediately seaward are three oceanic atolls -- Glover's Reef,
Light-house Reef, and the Turneffe Islands. Much of the coral reef ecosystem exists in a
relatively pristine state, due to the country's small population (ca. 200,000) and emerging state of
development. While destruction or modification of sea turtle habitat is not yet serious on a
national scale, troubling trends are becoming apparent. Contemporary destruction of coastal
habitats, often to service a growing tourist industry, presents an obvious challenge to sea turtle
conservation. There are many examples of beachfront development compromising nesting
beaches, such as at Tobacco and South West cays where the entire shoreline of both cays
consists of buildings or seawalls. Sea turtle nesting was once commonplace on these cays, but is

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

rare today. Low sea turtle nest density on Ambergris Cay has been attributed to the long
presence of man (Carr et al., 1982).

Beachfront development has brought an increase in artificial lighting, human activity, and
pollution associated with sewage and waste disposal to once isolated nesting grounds. Litter and
ocean-borne debris are serious problems on some beaches. Lights shining on the beach at night
distract emerging hatchlings and lead them away from the sea (section 4.132). Also, hawksbills
have been found to nest within supralittoral vegetation (section 2.4) and shoreline developers
usually clear away such vegetation in order to obtain sandy beaches. Loss of beach vegetation
may deter nesting females, or may concentrate nesting around remaining "islands" of vegetation,
potentially making it easier for predators to find the eggs. Furthermore, removing stabilizing
vegetation invites coastal erosion. The need for raw material for construction has resulted in
sand mining operations at the mouth of the Sibun River where sediments are dredged by divers
from the seabed in shallow water and transported by boat to Belize City. The cumulative effect
of this constant activity has been the erosion of down-current nesting habitat (section 4.131).

In a recent article in the Marine Turtle Newsletter, Smith (1992) noted that a type of
development which would be compatible with sea turtle nesting is already a growing part of
Belize's tourism industry. Small, environmentally conscious hotels located on large tracks of
private land and reserves that use kerosene lanterns and cater to 'eco-tourists' would not only be
compatible with sea turtles, but could actually enhance sea turtle recovery by helping to protect
nests and increase public awareness. Further, since there are hundreds of kilometers of shore-
front property in Belize where sea turtles do not nest that are suitable for large hotels,
condominiums and subdivisions, it seems all the more logical to safeguard the few sites where
endangered sea turtle species are able to successfully lay their eggs. There are fewer than a half
dozen known sites in the Caribbean where a person can walk a beach and find over 100
hawksbill nests. One of those beaches (Manatee Bar) is in Belize. This is a national treasure that
should be earnestly protected.

In addition to the protection of nesting beaches, degradation of nearshore waters and
coral reefs must be guarded against. It is expected that agricultural expansion will occur as
Belize attempts to raise its currently modest standard of living. Unless crop land is cleared and
planted properly, erosion and runoff will result in an increased sediment load in nearshore
waters. Cloudy water (turbidity) can reduce the productivity of coral reefs and sea grass
meadows, eventually badly harming these systems. The runoff of herbicides, pesticides and
other pollutants should be closely monitored (section 4.146). The need for clear boat channels
(unobstructed access) has already brought about isolated attempts to dredge or dynamite portions
of living reef (sections 4.141, 4.147). Increased boat traffic threatens sea grasses and coral reefs
with anchor damage, resulting in reduced foraging area for both green turtles and hawksbills
(section 4.147), as well as degradation from sewage effluent and careless waste disposal. An
increase in the number of divers visiting our coral reef ecosystem stresses the resource by
collecting, handling, and trampling the coral. Finally, persistent vessel groundings on the barrier
reef have caused localized damage. The reef is not only important to the survival of endangered
sea turtles but because of its role in commercial fisheries and tourism, severe reef degradation
would be "a direct blow to the first and third leading economic sectors in Belize" (Young et al.,

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

3.2 Disease or Predation

The full extent to which disease and predation effect sea turtle populations in Belize has
not been determined. Natural causes of mortality in sea turtles differ among life stages. Eggs
are lost to beach erosion, as well as to native predators. Smith (1990a) observed ants entering
loggerhead turtle nests on Ambergris Cay and attacking both eggs and hatchlings; fly larvae were
also present in some nests feeding on rotten eggs and dead hatchlings. A survey of 8 km of
beach at Manatee Bar revealed that 100 of 108 (92%) hawksbill nests laid in 1991 were
depredated by raccoons and, probably, coatimundis (Smith, 1991). Hatchlings are typically lost
to feral and exotic animals, crabs, ants, night herons, lizards, sea birds, and reef fishes. Precise
estimates of the annual losses of hatchlings to beach predators are not available, but attacks on
hatchlings by hermit crabs and "wish-willy" lizards (Ctenosaura similis) have been observed
(Smith, 1990a) and Miller (1984) reported that birds, crabs, and predatory fishes all consume
hatchlings in Belize. Juveniles and adults presumably fall prey to offshore predators such as
sharks. An adult or sub-adult turtle was once found in the stomach of a 12-14 ft tiger shark
caught near Half Moon Cay (Jim Beveridge, Cay Caulker, pers. comm.).

Marine turtle fibropapilloma, a potentially lethal tumor disease, has been seen in green
turtles in the Belize City market (J. Beveridge, pers. comm.). Some turtle fishermen report
catching green turtles with papillomas (locally called warts) so abundant that they would not sell
or eat the turtle. Dr. Karen Eckert of WIDECAST also observed several cases of fibropapilloma
in green turtles offered for sale in the Belize City market in 1990. She reported her observations
to Dr. Theodore Aranda, Belize Minister of Health, in a detailed letter dated 25 July 1990.
Green turtle fibropapilloma has been documented extensively in Florida (Ehrhart, 1991) and has
more recently been found in Curacao (Jacobson, 1990) and Venezuela (Guada et al., 1991). The
cause of this debilitating and often fatal disease is unknown. The full extent to which the disease
afflicts green turtles in Belize is not known. The authors are not aware of any scientific studies
showing ill effects to consumers; nevertheless, it is never wise to eat diseased meat. Diseased
turtles should be returned to the sea.

3.3 Over-utilization

Over-utilization in the past has most certainly caused the observed decline of sea turtle
stocks in Belize. By historical standards exploitation eased during the 20th century, but netting
activities continued to concentrate near mating and nesting grounds where adults congregate. As
a consequence, populations have not been given a chance to recover. Until very recently it was
legal to hunt all species of sea turtle in Belizean waters, although there were size and seasonal
restrictions; hawksbills are now fully protected (see section 4.21). Sea turtles are commonly sold
in the public market (Tables 4 and 5) and represent a relatively inexpensive source of protein.
Although the public markets apparently did not allow undersized turtles to be sold [cf. Fisheries
Regulations, 1977], fishermen sometimes kept the small turtles for their own consumption or
held them captive for a time before butchering. It is illegal to possess sea turtle eggs, but they
are generally consumed whenever they are found and "red eggs" (i.e., unshelled eggs taken from
the oviducts of slaughtered females) are considered a delicacy by some. Gillett (1987) reported
heavy human exploitation of eggs at a popular nesting beach (Rocky Point) on Ambergris Cay
which continued until beach patrols were initiated in 1989.

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

According to Rebel (1974), 7131 lb (3241 kg) of loggerhead turtle meat, 4346 lb (1975
kg) of green turtle meat, and 1110 lb (504 kg) of hawksbill turtle meat were sold within the
colony, then British Honduras, in 1945. Also according to Rebel, 8800 lb (19,360 kg) of
loggerhead meat was exported to the USA in 1969 and again in 1970. Gil Rosado (quoted in
Rebel, 1974) estimated that the local consumption of sea turtles, presumably in the early 1970's,
was 5000 lb (2273 kg) of loggerhead, 1000 lb (455 kg) of green turtle, and 2500 lb (1136 kg) of
hawksbill per year. The numbers of turtles represented was not specified. Based on market
surveys and reports from fishermen, Miller (1984) determined that approximately 1,000 turtles
(all three species) were legally landed each year between 1980-1982. Also based on market
surveys and reports from fishermen, Gillett (1987) reported 979 turtles landed in 1986:

Species Year: 1982 1981 1980 1986

Loggerhead 400 425 415 --
Green turtle 280 325 350 --
Hawksbill 325 370 360 --

Total 1005 1120 1125 979

Based on data provided by Miller (1984) and Gillett (1987), the average weight of sea turtles
landed declined an alarming 60% between 1982 and 1986 from 163.0 kg to 66.7 kg (Tables 4
and 5).

Based on visits to Belize in June and July 1983, and again from January to April 1984,
during which time information about the status, distribution, and level of exploitation of the
Belizean turtle fauna was investigated by ground patrol, aerial survey, and personal interviews
with turtle fishermen, vendors of turtle meat and products, and government officials involved in
sea turtle protection, Moll (1985) reported that green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles were all
exploited, the ban on egg collection was widely ignored, turtles were taken for meat during the
closed season, and tortoiseshell curios and jewelry found a "ready market" among tourists from
abroad. He explained that the meat was used for both private consumption and commercial sale,
with the green turtle being the most prized in coastal markets and restaurants. The meat of
loggerheads was apparently less favoured, but Moll witnessed four loggerheads caught outside
the reef at Ambergris Cay during March 1984; all were brought into San Pedro to be butchered.
One commercial turtle fishermen from Mullins River reported that he caught four to five turtles
(mainly greens) per week during the legal season by setting nets near rock piles in the turtle grass
beds near shore (Moll, 1985).

Hawksbill meat is not as preferred as that of the green turtle, but still hawksbills are
killed and sold for both meat and shell. Despite a ban on the taking of juveniles, Moll (1985)
observed that "beautifully patterned young specimens are stuffed and sold as wall decorations. A
sizable population of locally collected hawksbills decorate the town of San Pedro [Ambergris
Cay], since almost every shop and hotel has several adorning their walls. American tourists are
the main purchasers of tortoiseshell products here; they are either unaware or unconcerned that

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

sea turtle products may not be legally imported into the USA. ... Eggs may not be legally
harvested in Belize, but the ban is widely ignored. Eggs of all three species are gathered
whenever possible and used privately or sold. In 1982, Honduran and Guatemalan citizens paid
US$ 1.00 per dozen for sea turtle eggs gathered at Placencia and smuggled across their
respective borders for sale (G. W. Miller, pers. comm.). ... Enforcement of laws is difficult due
to the lack of manpower and boats swift enough to overtake poachers, and the extensive areas
that must be patrolled. Sea turtles taken during the closed season are not openly marketed, but
are butchered and the meat sold in small packages door to door (G. W. Miller, pers. comm.)."

Gillett (1987) summarized the situation this way: "turtles [are] being exploited for their
eggs, meat and shell. Turtles are being netted by local fishermen and a considerable trade in
turtle eggs and turtles is allegedly being conducted by illegal fishermen from those countries
south of our borders. These activities, and the extent to which they exploit the resource, [are
unquantified because] they operate from the southern cays which are mostly uninhabited and
isolated. Although our traditional national fishermen are not solely dependent on the catch of
turtles for their livelihood, there is a thriving trade in turtle products. Other lobster and conch
fishermen do take turtles when available as incidental catch. Marine turtles are also being caught
in the nets of the shrimp trawlers operating in our waters. However, there are no reports of
turtles being washed up on shore." In Placencia Village, Smith (1989) reported that large turtles
caught mainly by fishermen from Monkey River were dressed and sold locally from the beach
early in the morning at B$ 1.00-1.50/lb (two green and a loggerhead were observed there during
a 1989 field survey). In San Pedro, large turtles are sold at B$ 3.50-5.00/lb, mostly to restaurants
for tourist meals.

During a 1990 national survey of nesting grounds, more than 40 people, mostly
fishermen and several past or present turtle fishermen, were interviewed. The information
supplied provides the most up-to-date picture of the utilization of sea turtles in Belize. Will
Eiley sets his nets near English Cay Channel and catches 200-300 turtles per year, mostly greens.
Charles Flowers fishes near Mullins River and catches 200+ turtles per year, again mostly
greens. George Garbutt fishes near Monkey River; he was not able to provide an accurate
estimate of his annual take, but it is "mostly greens". Wellington Garbutt was also fishing near
the Monkey River and catching 50-60 turtles per year, mostly greens and loggerheads with an
occasional (perhaps five per year) hawksbill. Wilfred Young and his brother fish near Punta
Negra and catch as many as 60 turtles per year; green, loggerhead, and hawksbill are landed in
roughly equal numbers. Florencio Lino fishes near Punta Gorda, catching 60-100 turtles per
year, mostly greens. Of nine other turtle fishermen interviewed, only one intended to fish for
turtles in the future. Another fisherman, Mr. Coleman, reportedly began setting nets for turtle
only recently (near Southern Long Cay) and was not interviewed.

In addition to the harvest described above, other turtles, mostly loggerheads and
hawksbills, are opportunistically landed by harpoon, hook, or spear and some are brought to
market. Based on all these data, we estimate that 500-800 turtles (mostly adults) are sold legally
in local markets in Belize each year, of which some 60% are greens, 30% are loggerheads, and
10% are hawksbills -- a reversal from data a decade ago showing that loggerheads were the
dominant market species (cf. Miller, 1984). All the men interviewed said that they caught many
more females than males. None of the turtle fishermen are totally dependent on turtles; they also

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

harvest snapper, snook, lobster, conch, and/or other finfish. Fewer than a dozen fishermen set
nets specifically for sea turtles, but opportunistic take, including the take of turtles caught in fish
nets or grabbed by divers, is not uncommon. The illegal exploitation of eggs has been estimated
at 10,000 annually (Miller, 1984). One fisherman living on Frank's Cay (Sapodilla Cays)
reportedly regularly poaches eggs and has up to 500 at one time which he sells for B$ 5-6 per
dozen to tourists coming to the islands (Smith, 1990b).

In 1990, several non-government conservation groups in Belize became concerned
enough about the local status of the hawksbill turtle that they lobbied the government to
implement an indefinite moratorium on the take of this species. In a letter to the government
(Appendix I), they noted that interviews with fishermen had revealed that hawksbill shells were
being bought in Belize, stockpiled, and then illegally exported to Japan. Further, as tourism has
increased, so have the numbers of shops selling hawksbill jewelry to tourists. The harvest of
hawksbills for export, whether clandestinely to Japan or indirectly through foreign tourists,
constitutes an important aspect of utilization. The commercial harvest of turtles for export has
been ongoing for many decades. Rebel (1974) noted that the exportation of hawksbill shell "was
once a fairly substantial enterprise, with nearly all the shell being exported to England" and he
cited these data: in 1937, 2576 lb ($5,318) were exported; in 1938, 1457 lb ($2,919); in 1939,
1211 lb ($2,078); in 1940, 319 lb ($482); and in 1941, 850 lb ($1,131). A Placencia Fishermen's
Co-operative exported "many hawksbills" to France in the mid 1970's and according to former
Fisheries Unit Laboratory Administrator, Mr. G. Winston Miller, "this trade caused a noticeable
decline in the Belizean hawksbill population" (Moll, 1985).

In the mid-1980's, the export of bekko (=hawksbill shell) to Japan soared. According to
Milliken and Tokunaga (1987) relatively small volumes (0-702 kg/yr) of bekko were imported to
Japan from Belize between 1970 and 1982. Then, after a brief downward trend (538 kg in 1983
and none in 1984), a dramatic rise in imports was reported in Japanese Customs statistics (1195
kg in 1985 and 2231 kg in 1986). More alarming is the fact that records kept by Japanese shell
dealers (as opposed to Customs officials) showed that a total of 1628 kg, 3240 kg and 3280 kg
were imported from Belize in the three years 1984-1986 (Milliken and Tokunaga, 1987),
suggesting that government statistics may have been seriously underestimating the real trade
volume. The sudden increase in the volume of hawksbill shell exported to Japan during the last
decade has been attributed to the confused status of CITES in Belize during the early 1980's,
despite the fact that Belize became a full Party to the Convention in September 1981. Of the
approximately 5,200 Belizean hawksbills required to supply Japan with bekko from 1970-1982,
more than 4,000 were harvested after 1981 (Milliken and Tokunaga, 1987). Reliable reports
(multiple sources) indicate that trade in hawksbill shell from Belize continues illegally.

3.4 Inadequate Regulatory Mechanisms

There is little doubt that the present reduced numbers of sea turtles are attributable to the
absence of adequate regulatory mechanisms in the past. The Fisheries Regulations of 1977
attempted to correct this situation. The 1977 regulations prohibited the possession or taking of
turtles from 1 June to 31 August each year, a time period thought to encompass the most
important portion of the nesting season [N.B. recent surveys indicate that the mating and nesting
season extends from April through November]. The taking of turtles whilst they were on shore

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

was banned at all times, both on the mainland and on the cays. Nets, seines and other
instruments "for the purpose or with the intent of taking turtles" were prohibited within 100
yards of shore. The taking, possession, buying or selling of greens and hawksbills under 50
pounds and of loggerheads under 30 pounds became illegal. The export of turtles and of articles
made from turtle parts was also prohibited, except with a license granted by the Minister
responsible for Fisheries. Four species (loggerhead, green, hawksbill, leatherback) were briefly
fully protected by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1981, but protected status was revoked on 25
January 1982 because it conflicted with the Fisheries Regulations (see section 4.21).

While the provisions of the Fisheries Regulations of 1977 represented a regulatory
improvement over a wholly unregulated harvest, the continued take of large juveniles and adults
worked against the recovery of sea turtle populations. Further, conservation legislation has
always been nearly impossible to enforce due to insufficient manpower and a vast expanse of
territory. A decline in local sea turtle stocks, attributed to a combination of legal and illegal take
and a lack of enforcement capability, prompted a recent review of sea turtle regulations. In
1990, the Belize Audubon Society, the Programme For Belize, and the Belize Center for
Environmental Studies petitioned Government to strengthen sea turtle conservation laws
(Appendix I). In response, the Fisheries (Amendment) Regulations of 1993 will include (1)
year-around protection for hawksbills, (2) maximum size limits (60 cm/24 inch shell length) for
green and loggerhead turtles in order to protect large juveniles and breeding-age adults, and (3)
an extend-ed closed season (1 April-31 October). Earlier provisions against the take of eggs, the
take of turtles on land, and the setting of nets within 100 yards of shore will be retained.

Historically inadequate regulatory mechanisms are also apparent in the protection of
critical habitat. In recognition that a holistic coastal zone management plan should be prepared
for Belize, a Coastal Resources Management Workshop was held in San Pedro, Ambergris Cay,
in August 1989. The Workshop was hosted by the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Belize
Fisheries Department, in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation International, and covered
three major areas of concern: (1) the management of marine reserves, (2) marine research and
education, and (3) coastal zone management. The Workshop also focused on the reality that if a
marine conservation ethic is to flourish in Belize, it is essential that a cadre of trained Belizeans
be available to assume the management responsibilities of this "most valuable natural heritage."
Finally, as the country is at the crossroads of development, the Workshop deemed it imperative
that a comprehensive coastal resources planning strategy be prepared in order to allow
development to progress in a planned manner whilst at the same time safeguarding the integrity
of the coastal system. The final recommendations of this successful Workshop (attended by 55
experts from nine countries) led to a national Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Project, a
significant advancement in regulatory mechanisms as they pertain to habitat.

3.5 Other Natural or Man-made Factors

In addition to the effects of development that directly threaten coral reefs, sea grass beds
and cays, Belize is hit by a hurricane on average once every 30 years. Although only 5% of the
hurricanes recorded in the tropical Atlantic Ocean reached Belize between 1886-1978, the
country has "a history of devastating encounters" with these tropical storms, a history that finally
led to the relocation of the capital from Belize City to Belmopan, some 80 km inland, in 1971

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

(Hartshorn et al., 1984). These events have the potential to destroy incubating eggs, as well as
completely erase foraging and nesting grounds. In some instances, entire cays have been washed
away by hurricanes. Although such catastrophes were unlikely to threaten the continued
existence of sea turtles when populations were larger, future disasters may have a much greater
effect on now-depleted populations. Routine storms also wash-out sea turtle nests. In 1990, a
resident reported that "about five" turtle nests on a mainland beach just north of South Stann
Creek were lost to erosion following an August storm (Smith, 1990b). Other dangers are
periodically reported, such as when a post-nesting hawksbill fell into a well at Blue Marlin
Lodge (South Water Cay) in late August 1989; she was released the next day (Smith, 1989).

An as yet unquantified threat to sea turtles in Belize is their entrapment in active or
abandoned fishing gear. For example, gillnets pose a threat to hawksbills nesting in the Manatee
Bar area. Although it is illegal to set nets within 100 yards of nesting beaches to catch sea
turtles, it is not prohibited to set nets in these areas for fish. Gillnets were set in waters adjoining
the Manatee Bar nesting beach on 3 September and again on 10 October 1991 (Smith, 1992). In
addition, several hundred sea turtles are believed to be captured accidentally in shrimp trawls
each year and other gear, such lobster pots and long lines, also pose a potential threat (see section
4.27). With ever-increasing numbers of residents and tourists enjoying water sports, debilitating
or fatal encounters with motor boats, surfboards, sail boats and personal watercraft ('jet skis')
may become more frequent.


4.1 Manage and Protect Habitat

It is intuitive that protecting sea turtles and their eggs from harm is only the first step in
our commitment to their survival. Important foraging and nesting habitat must also be afforded
protection. Identifying and managing essential habitat is discussed in sections 4.11 and 4.12.
The protection of beaches or marine areas important to sea turtles need not imply closure to the
public. Guidelines for compatible development are proposed in sections 4.13 and 4.14.

4.11 Identify essential habitat

Identifying habitats important to the survival of marine turtles in Belize is not easily
accomplished. Belize includes some 280 km of mainland coastline (1,381 km if the offshore
cays and exposed reef are included; Miller, 1984) and 23,657 km2 of territorial sea extending 20
km into the Caribbean Sea (Hartshorn et al., 1984). Some very useful surveys have been done of
the geomorphology, flora, and general features of the Belize barrier reef and offshore atolls (e.g.,
Vermeer, 1959; Stoddart, 1962; Dillon and Vedder, 1973; Wantland and Pusey, 1975; James and
Ginsburg, 1979; Stoddart et al., 1982), but none of these have indicated the use of this expansive
environment by sea turtles. Turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) is the principal ground cover of
the Barrier Platform and the Northern Shelf Lagoon. Percent coverage varies according to
ambient conditions from dense, almost monocultural meadows to sparser flats where algae (e.g.,
Halimeda, Penicillus, Turbinaria, Padina, Gonolithion, Amphiroa) and small corals are numerous
(Perkins, 1983).

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

In general, sea grass meadows provide important forage to green turtles (section 2.2),
while coral reefs, mangroves, and/or river mouths serve as feeding areas for loggerheads (section
2.1) and hawksbills (section 2.4). Coral and rock structures also provide refugia for sea turtles of
all species (except the leatherback, which is not common in Belize). Marine areas utilized by
feeding or resting sea turtles may be identified by soliciting observations from fisher-men and
recreational divers who frequent specific areas repetitively over time (section 4.111). In
addition, biologists (e.g., those based at Carrie Bow Cay) studying sea grass or coral reef
ecosystems should be encouraged to record turtle sightings, fecal material, "grazing scars"
(section 2.2), and other evidence of sea turtle activity. Preliminary survey data indicate that the
area between Middle Long Cay and English Cay Channel is frequented by green turtles foraging
on sea grass at 3-7 m (Smith, 1990b).

Most of the sandy beaches in Belize are associated with the offshore cays of the barrier
reef, rather than on the mainland. Much of the mainland coast is low mangrove swamp and is
unsuitable for sea turtle nesting. Moll (1985) found during aerial surveys in July 1983 that even
where there appeared to be suitable habitat on the mainland (central and southern coastline), little
sea turtle activity was observed. Nonetheless, some mainland beaches, such as that at Manatee
Bar, have recently been found to support large numbers of nesting hawksbills (Smith, 1991). In
order to identify important nesting beaches, systematic ground and/or aerial surveys will be
necessary in order to quantify the distribution of nesting activity. Beaches which appear to be
ideal for turtle nesting do not necessarily support nesting. The reasons for this are not always
clear, but presumably involve both the subtleties of nest site selection and historical levels of

4.111 Survey foraging areas

Belize provides extensive foraging grounds (sea grass, coral reef) to several species of
marine turtle. The following habitat description is quoted from Perkins (1983): "The Belize
Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world and the greatest manifestation of the coral reef
ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere for its size, unique array of reef types, and luxuriance of
corals thriving in such a pristine condition. Ecologically and aesthetically, its integrity is
virtually unmarred. Forming a nearly continuous bulwark for [220 km] along the continental
shelf edge, the Belize Barrier Reef provides sustenance and physical security to the entire
country. Immediately seaward are three oceanic atolls including Glover's Reef, which is
unparalleled in the Caribbean for its development, variety of reef types, and biotic diversity. In
the calm waters of the lagoon behind the barrier reef is a flourishing complex of patch reefs and
sea grass meadows, a maze of unusual shelf atolls, known as faroes, and some unique offshore
mangrove cays whose origins are marine."

To systematically survey the coastal water of mainland Belize would be difficult enough,
but add in the large number of offshore cays, atolls, and the vast size and complexity of the
barrier reef and the task becomes monumental. Neither the government nor the private sector
has the financial means or the manpower to conduct such a survey. Divers who lead SCUBA or
snorkeling trips for tourists often visit the same area repeatedly and should be encouraged to
keep records of turtles sighted on their trips as a means of monitoring stocks in localized areas.
Similarly, informal surveys should be initiated with the support of interested fishermen, boaters,

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

and/or photographers. Marine reserve managers, such as at Hol Chan, will be encouraged to
keep a log of sea turtle sightings. Studies undertaken to assess biodiversity, evaluate potential
Marine Park or Reserve sites, document the effects of pollution or siltation, etc. should include
records of turtle activity. The ongoing CZM Unit coral reef monitoring project has already
undertaken to report sea turtle sightings; this project will eventually monitor 30 or more sites.

Some preliminary data are already available. For example, during two recent nesting
beach surveys, observers were transported from cay to cay by sailboat. Turtle sightings en route
were recorded. Greens, loggerheads, and hawksbills were all observed, mostly in "coral and
sand" or "sea grass" (see Smith, 1989, 1990b for details). When data indicate that particular reef
or sea grass communities are important to sea turtles, these areas should become the focus of
systematic surveys to ascertain the abundance and distribution of the species involved, as well as
the threats present. Destructive activities, such as dynamiting and indiscriminate anchoring,
should be prohibited in foraging areas. Areas with relatively higher concentrations of turtles
should be candidates for protected status. Survey data should be assembled, maintained and
updated by a designated government agency or non-government group.

4.112 Survey nesting habitat

Ground and aerial surveys initiated in 1982 for the Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium
(WATS I) were the first general survey done for marine turtles in Belize and resulted in valuable
data (see Miller, 1984). In 1989 (3-24 September), Greg Smith and Jim Beveridge of the Belize
Audubon Society organized a ground survey of areas described as sea turtle nesting beaches by
Perkins (1983) and/or Miller (1984). Only Lighthouse Reef and Glover's Reef atolls were
excluded from the effort. In addition, 23 interviews, primarily with fishermen, were conducted
throughout the survey to gather information on possible nesting sites and general knowledge of
sea turtles in Belize. A follow-up national survey covering more than 1,300 km was conducted
in 1990 (10-29 July, 9-30 September, 5-6 November). During this time most of the cays in
Belize were checked by sail boat for potential nesting beaches, which were then ground
surveyed. More than 40 fishermen and knowledgeable residents, 16 of them past or present
turtle fishermen, were interviewed. Areas not included in the 1990 survey were the coast south
of Punta Gorda, the coast north of Manatee Bar, and the Turneffe Islands south of Calabash Cay
(Smith, 1990b). In 1991, an important hawksbill nesting beach on the mainland beach at
Manatee Bar was patrolled irregularly between 15 May and 1 November to record sea turtle
nesting activity (Smith, 1991). Seasonal surveys of sea turtle nesting on Ambergris Cay have
been ongoing since 1989.

The most important nesting beaches for sea turtles are now known to be located on
Ambergris Cay, on the southern outer cays from Silk Cay to the Sapodilla Cays, and on the
mainland at Manatee Bar. Preliminary reports indicate that Lighthouse Reef atoll and the
mainland peninsula of Placencia may also be significant in some years. Twenty-four cays were
reported to support sea turtle nesting by Gillett (1987) and more recent surveys have documented
nesting on at least 30 cays (Table 2). Despite the laudable survey efforts to date, some of which
are on-going, it is impossible to envision one person or group, including the government, with
the time and resources needed to survey all potential nesting habitat. Thus, it would be most
useful if residents could be inspired to survey beaches close to their homes or businesses. Beach

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

patrol by police officers and British Defense Forces presently stationed in the Sapodilla Cays
should be encouraged. Youth or civic/conservation groups could perhaps be mobilized to walk
accessible mainland beaches during the day on a regular basis, at least weekly, from 1 May to 30
November. All evidence of sea turtle activity (usually a crawl, or signs of egg poaching) should
be recorded during these walks; of course volunteers must receive some preliminary training in
order to distinguish one species from another on the basis of crawl characteristics (section 4.55).
Ground surveys are believed to be more effective than aerial surveys, especially in places where
the protective barrier reef limits exposed, unvegetated beach sand to <2 m (Smith, 1990b). All
data should be assembled, maintained and updated by a designated government agency or
non-government group.

Important beaches should be considered candidates for Park or Reserve status. For these
beaches, management plans should be constructed (section 4.12), proximal development should
follow guidelines discussed in section 4.13, and coastal landlords should be required to support
sea turtle monitoring and enhancement programmes on adjoining nesting beaches. In the U. S.
Virgin Islands, developers must design and submit sea turtle monitoring programmes for their
area developments as a prerequisite to gaining building permits (Eckert, 1989a). There are sound
economic reasons for protecting important nesting beaches, including the long-term physical
stability of the coastline and the current interest in "eco-tourism". There are a growing number of
examples of hotels in the Caribbean who are using sea turtles to attract eco-tourists and finding
the idea to be immensely successful. In some cases, a naturalist is employed full time to lead
guests on "turtle walks" and ensure that turtles are not disturbed (e.g., Fuller et al., 1992).

4.12 Develop area-specific management plans

A number of marine protected areas are either in existence or have been proposed,
including Hol Chan Marine Reserve at Ambergris Cay, Half Moon Cay National Monument on
Lighthouse Reef, and proposed sites at Glover's Reef Atoll, Laughing Bird Cay, Sapodilla Cays,
the Tobacco Reef area off Dangriga (including South Water Cay, Carrie Bow Cay, Wee Wee
Cay, and possibly Tobacco Cay), and a manatee biosphere in Northern and Southern Lagoons
(Young et al., 1992; see also Table 3). In addition, recommendations have been made to declare
the world's second largest barrier reef ecosystem a World Heritage Site/Biosphere Reserve. The
idea of establishing Sea Turtle Refuges specifically for the protection of nesting or foraging
turtles should also be explored. Sound management techniques need not wait for the enactment
of formal Park status, however. Area-specific management may involve a wide array of options
in addition to (or in place of) full protected status. These could include appropriate beachfront
lighting; a ban on the removal of beach vegetation, sand mining, littering, recreational vehicles,
and horses on the beach; the closure of a beach during nighttime hours, or even low-technology
manipulative options such as the establishment of a hatchery for eggs threatened by erosion or
predators. The first step is to identify areas deserving of special management status. The second
step is to implement specific solutions to imposing threats, based on recommendations in this
Recovery Action Plan.

It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that two areas in particular, the
Sapodilla Cays and Manatee Bar, be given priority attention for Reserve status because of their
critical importance to hawksbill turtles. Hawksbill nesting has declined significantly nationwide

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

(see Introduction) and the legal and illegal take of eggs and turtles is implicated in the species'
demise. In addition to Sapodilla Cays residents, some of which are avid poachers, the cays also
host large numbers of tourists every year. Hotels are planned on Nicholas and Hunting Cays,
and campers entirely cover Hunting and Limes Cays at certain times during the sea turtle nesting
season. To protect this area in the future, active enforcement of the laws against poaching and
protection of important nesting areas from adverse development will be necessary. To
accomplish this, we recommend that enforcement personnel be stationed in the area full-time.
Establishing a Marine Reserve in the Sapodilla Cays would provide the necessary protection
personnel for turtles and other resources, and still allow tourists and residents to use the cays. It
is essential that a plan be devised that allows for the controlled use of the cays by visitors on a
long-term, sustainable basis. Revenue from tourists required to pay a fee to enter the Reserve
would provide sufficient funds to make the protection self-sustaining.

The Manatee Bar nesting site, which is within the boundaries of the Manatee Special
Development Area (MSDA), supports ca. 50% of all known hawksbill nesting in Belize. The
nesting zone extends 7.25 miles (11.6 km), mostly south of the Bar River. Protection of this
unique nesting site is essential. The government has already demonstrated its commitment to
this objective by rejecting a recent proposal for a subdivision to be located on the beach north of
Manatee Bar. However, all of the beach north and south of the bar is privately owned and it is
expected that pressure to develop the area will continue (Smith, 1991). WIDECAST supports
the recommendation of the Manatee Advisory Team in Belize that "the Government of Belize
acquire the Hawksbill Turtle Conservation Zone (7.25 mi by 0.25 mi) for management and
public use, monitoring of nests, and permitting of concessions leased to the private sector for
small scale eco-tourism development utilizing the given zone and use recommendations."
Alternatives include a joint government-private or wholly private initiative to include conserva-
tive setbacks and other development restrictions. A Gales Point village-based eco-tourism
venture featuring the Manatee Bar hawksbills is planned. A manual for "sea turtle eco-tourism"
is currently being prepared by WIDECAST and will be very useful for the Gales Point project.

Since nesting beaches in many parts of Belize are privately owned, one alternative to a
government-owned reserve is the formation of a "voluntary sanctuary" for sea turtles by the
landowners themselves. By voluntarily agreeing to restrict their building on nesting beaches,
minimize the use of lights and vehicles, and prevent others from disturbing turtles and their
nests, enlightened owners are making a very positive contribution to the conservation of sea
turtles in Belize. The Belize Audubon Society has agreed to help Ambergris Cay landowners
establish a Voluntary Sea Turtle Sanctuary along the lines of the Baboon Sanctuary. [N.B. At
present, a government-sponsored management plan for the cay includes provisions for strict
zoning of the sea turtle nesting area with no construction between Robles and Rocky points.]
Whether protected area status is formal or informal (voluntary), regulatory guidelines should be
clearly understood by all parties, the enforcement of such guidelines should be clear and
consistent, and information about the area should be made available to visitors.

Turtles may also benefit from management plans and protected areas designed for other
species. Because coral reefs and sea grass beds are vitally important to commercial fisheries
(e.g., lobster, conch, grouper), the protection of turtle foraging areas might logically be tied to
fisheries management schemes. The National Fisheries Development Plan recommended that

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

fish, lobster and conch habitats be protected. These recommendations were never enacted, but
the ongoing planning process to develop a management strategy for the coastal zone of Belize
will include measures to protect critical habitats. Any effort to safeguard coral reefs and sea
grass beds to enhance the production of commercial fishes and invertebrates will naturally
benefit sea turtles as well. An Action Plan should be completed in late 1994.

4.121 Involve local coastal zone authorities

The Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Unit evaluates most coastal development projects
and thus has an opportunity to recommend that measures be adopted which ensure the protection
of turtle nesting and foraging sites. The ongoing CZM Project recognizes that public
participation in the planning and implementation process is essential for the long-term success of
integrated coastal zone management initiatives. Therefore, the input of community-level
organizations such as village councils and tourism associations is actively encouraged. The
participation of the northern Ambergris Cay landowners association in the voluntary turtle
sanctuary is a good example of community involvement. The World Conservation Union, World
Wildlife Fund, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (New York Zoological Society) are
presently supporting the CZM Project in Belize. The Project, including institutional and
legislative recommendations and the need for strong government and public commitment, is
fully described elsewhere (Price and Heinanen, 1992; Young et al., 1992). A comprehensive
CZM Action Plan is scheduled to be completed in 1994.

4.122 Develop regulatory guidelines

It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that when areas are defined as
especially critical to remaining sea turtle stocks, regulatory guidelines should seek to establish a
framework within which appropriate land use and development (commercial, recreational,
residential) can occur. Development proximal to important nesting beaches should carry the
requirement that beachfront lighting be designed in such a way as to prevent the disorientation of
hatchlings or nesting adults, the construction of buildings seaward of the line of permanent
vegetation should be prohibited, and natural beach vegetation should be preserved. Recreational
equipment, such as lounge chairs, sail boats and surfboards, should not be allowed to remain on
the beach after sunset because it may obstruct nesting or hatching turtles. The construction of
solid jetties and sea walls, and coastal activities such as sand mining and dredging should be
regulated in such a way as not to result in the erosion of nesting habitat. Indiscriminate
anchoring and the disposal of waste at sea should be forbidden.

At the present time, any hotel requesting a development concession on a beach is
required to agree to lighting, building, and use restrictions to minimize possible impact on
nesting turtles. For example, Statutory Instrument No. 32 of 1990 (an Order made by the
Minister of Economic Development) stipulates as a condition of development that the Blue
Marlin Resort, Ltd., must, among other things, (1) satisfy the Minister of the Environment that
all necessary measures are taken to control any pollution to the environment that may result from
the operation of the company, (2) comply with the Fisheries regulations concerning the
protection of nesting turtles and their eggs and shall not construct any building or seawall less
than 60 ft from the high tide mark; nor use any bright lighting on the beach, and (3) confine pets

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

during the nesting season and shall generally inform employees and guests of the need to protect
turtles. It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that the government of Belize make
enforcement of such restrictions a priority.

We recommend that the following specific guidelines be implemented nation-wide. The
recommendations, adapted from Orme (1989) and Eckert (1989b), are further expanded in the
sections) referenced in each category.

1) Sand mining: No mining of beach sand should be permitted under any circumstances,
and the offshore mining of sediments should be closely monitored for negative effects on
down-current coastlines (section 4.131). The persistent removal of beach sand disrupts
stabilizing vegetation and exacerbates erosion. The resulting pits not only invite injury to both
humans and livestock, but they accumulate water and serve as breeding areas for mosquitoes and
other unwanted insects. The ongoing dredging of offshore deposits can result in a deficit of
material necessary to maintain adjacent and down-current beaches.

2) Artificial lighting: Sea turtles, especially hatchlings, are profoundly influenced by
light. Hatchlings depend largely on a visual response to natural seaward light to guide them to
the ocean. In zones of coastal development, sources of artificial light distract hatchlings so that
they turn away from the sea and crawl landward. It is essential that artificial light sources be
positioned so that the source of light is not directly visible from the beach and does not directly
illuminate areas of the beach; if lighting must be seen from the beach, it should emit wavelengths
(560-620 nm) which are least attractive to sea turtles. Low pressure sodium lights should be
used to the maximum extent possible. Low intensity, ground-level lighting is encouraged.
Nighttime and security lighting should be mounted not more than 5 m above the ground and
should not directly illuminate areas seaward of the primary dune or line of permanent vegetation.
No lighting, regardless of wavelength, should be placed between turtle nests and the sea.

Natural or artificial structures rising above the ground should be used to prevent lighting
from directly illuminating the beach/dune system and to buffer noise and conceal human activity
from the beach. Improving dune height in areas of low dune profile, planting native or
ornamental vegetation, or using hedges and/or privacy fences is encouraged. Barriers between
76-85 cm high are generally sufficient to block visual cues from artificial lights (Ehrenfeld,
1968; Mrosovsky, 1970). Ferris (1986) showed that a low fence of black polyester material
stretched between three posts and positioned between the nest and a lighthouse resulted in the
hatchlings orienting correctly to the sea. Balcony lights should be shielded from the beach,
decorative lighting (especially spotlights or floodlights) within line-of-sight of the beach should
be prohibited, and safety/security lights should be limited to the minimum number required to
achieve their functional roles (section 4.132).

3) Beach stabilisation structures: Hard engineering options to beach protection, including
impermeable breakwaters, jetties, groynes and seawalls positioned on the beach or in the
nearshore zone, should be considered only as a last resort. There are already cases of beaches
lost, rather than secured, as a result of armouring in Belize. Sandy beaches are naturally
dynamic. The physical characteristics of the coastline should be taken into account prior to
coastal construction so that adequate setbacks, rather than expensive and potentially counterpro-

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

ductive armouring, can be used to provide for the long-term conservation of the beach resource
(section 4.133).

4) Design setbacks: If development of land adjoining a sandy beach is planned, setback
limits should be defined that reflect the damage likely to be caused to the beach and backshore
environment during a major storm, and that take into consideration beach and backshore
characteristics. Setbacks should provide for vegetated areas including lawns and dunes between
hotels, homes and similar structures, and the beach proper. Setbacks of 30-40 m and 80-120 m
from the line of permanent vegetation are reasonable guidelines for upland coast development
and lowland beach coast development, respectively (section 4.133). Setbacks not only help to
protect coastal properties from storm damage, but also reduce overcrowding of the shorezone,
lessen the likelihood that local residents will be excluded from the beach, and enhance the
probability that artificial lighting will not shine directly on the beach.

5) Access: The use of motorized vehicles should be prohibited on beaches at all times and
parking lots and roadways (including any paved or unpaved areas where vehicles will operate)
should be positioned so that headlights do not cast light onto the beach at night. Driving on the
beach creates unsightly ruts, exacerbates erosion, and lowers sea turtle hatch success by
compacting nests (section 4.134). Tyre ruts also present a significant hazard to hatchlings
crossing the beach. Where vehicles are needed to transport heavy fishing or recreational
equipment, multiple access points should be provided and vehicles parked landward of the line
of permanent vegetation. Pedestrian access to beaches should be confined to specific locations
and strictly regulated so as to minimize destruction of the beach, including backshore vegetation,
by trampling. Whenever possible, access should be provided by the construction of elevated
walkways built over the primary dunes and positioned to direct foot traffic.

6) Waste disposal: No dumping should be permitted within the nearshore, beach, dune, or
wetland environment of the shorezone. Such dumping as has already occurred should be subject
to immediate cleanup. The fouling of beaches runs counter to the economic interests of residents
and landowners, especially hoteliers. The waste is insulting aesthetically, both while on the
beach and after washing into the sea. Sunbathing, beach walking, snorkeling, and fishing should
not have to been done amid discarded household and construction waste. Further, glass and
metal injure turtles and larger objects on the beach can prevent females from finding a nest site
and hatchlings from escaping the nest. Visitors should be required to pick up and take with them
any garbage or other waste brought to or generated at the beach. Trash cans and regular pickup
should be provided at all beaches. To the extent that beach cleanup is necessary, it should be
done using hand tools (section 4.134).

7) Vegetation cover andfires<: All attempts should be made to preserve vegetation above
the mean high tide mark. Creeping vegetation, such as beach bean or seaside bean (Canavalia
maritima), seaside purselane (Sesuvium portulacastrum), and beach morning glory or goat's foot
(Ipomoea pescaprae), stabilises the beach and offers protection against destructive erosion by
wind and waves. Larger supralittoral vegetation, such as West Indian sea lavender (Mallotonia
gnaphalodes), sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), manchineel (Hippomane mancinella), and acacia
(Acacia sp.), provides nesting habitat for the hawksbill sea turtle and offers natural shielding for
the beach from the artificial lighting of shoreline development (section 4.132). Fires, either for

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

recreation or charcoal production, should be prohibited on beaches. Fires are a hazard to the
surrounding dry forest, create unsightly scars, may scorch sea turtle eggs and hatchlings beneath
the surface of the sand, and can disorient hatchlings. Cooking fires should be restricted to
designated grill facilities.

8) Marine pollution: The dumping of solid or chemical wastes into the sea should be
prohibited under all circumstances. In addition to degrading the environment for residents and
visitors alike, sea turtles often ingest tar, plastic, rope, and other substances (e.g., Mrosovsky,
1981; Balazs, 1985; Lutz and Alfaro-Schulman, 1991), presumably mistaking these for food, and
become weakened or die. It is commonplace for sea turtles to confuse plastic bags with jellyfish
and eat them. Polluted effluent, including sewage, from land-based sources should be centrally
treated and any noxious chemicals removed before discharging it to the sea. One environmental
cost of accommodating increasing boat traffic in Belize is the dumping not only of garbage at
sea, but of raw sewage. The latter practice adds nutrients to the water which results in eutro-
phication and algae overgrowth in shallow coastal areas. See sections 4.143 to 4.146.

9) Anchoring and dredging: Anchor damage is a leading cause of destruction to sea grass
and coral reefs in the Wider Caribbean. Yachts, mini-cruise ships, and vessels of all sizes should
be required to either anchor in designated sand bottom areas or tie in at approved moorings. At
this time there are few cost-effective systems for mooring larger vessels, such as cruise ships.
Ships longer than 200 ft should be required to dock at port facilities or anchor in specially
designated areas. Dredging results in dramatic disruption of the seabed and often heavy siltation
of downstream coral and sea grass. Whenever possible, dredging sites should be chosen or timed
to cause the least amount of downstream silt and sedimentation (section 4.147).

10) Physical destruction of coral and sea grass: Neither living coral reefs nor algal ridges
should be dynamited or dragged with chains in order to provide boat access. Anchoring should
not occur in reef or sea grass areas (see above, and section 4.147). In the absence of the
sheltering influence of offshore reefs, shorelines are often severely altered, resulting in great
economic and environmental losses. The practices of using chemicals or dynamite (sections
4.141, 4.142) for the purpose of stunning fish for harvest are prohibited at all times and under all
circumstances and should remain so. The destruction of coral reefs resulting from these
practices can be irreversible in our lifetime.

4.123 Provide for enforcement of guidelines

Institutional and governmental support for enforcement cannot be over-emphasized.
Within marine reserves, the core zone is a no-fishing area. The no-fishing regulation is strictly
enforced in Hol Chan where there is day-to-day management and regular patrols. In contrast, no
fishing is permitted within the entire protected area at Half Moon Cay Natural Monument
(HMCNM), Lighthouse Reef, and the National Park at Laughing Bird Cay, but since no
authority is presently based in these reserves enforcement has been relatively ineffective. Illegal
fishing within the boundaries of the HMCNM is common. In order to effect compliance with
rules and regulations concerning the protection of habitat, visible and consistent law enforcement
is necessary.

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that a team of Conservation
Officers, Wardens, or other law enforcement personnel be responsible for monitoring compli-
ance in protected areas. With regard to conditions imposed on beach-front construction projects,
such as setbacks and lighting restrictions, a registered architect, professional engineer, or other
authority designated by the Government should conduct a site inspection, including a night
survey with all the beachfront lights turned on. The purpose of this inspection would be to verify
that beach illumination is minimized and is in accordance with regulations designed to protect
nesting, and especially hatching, sea turtles. With regard to enhancing environmental enforce-
ment in general, including protected species, pollution, and game and mining laws, the creation
of a Division of Environmental Enforcement is suggested (section 4.24).

4.124 Develop educational materials

Public education, like law enforcement, is crucial to the long-term success of any legal
protection of endangered species. Several agencies and organizations participate in environ-
mental education in Belize. The Belize Audubon Society (BAS), Belize Zoo, Belize Center for
Environmental Studies, Programme for Belize, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Ministry of
the Environment, and the U. S. Peace Corps are all becoming increasingly involved in environ-
mental education and embrace public awareness as a primary goal. Both HMCNM and Hol
Chan have brochures containing information for the visitor, including guidelines and regulations.
At HMCNM, the BAS has several interpretative signs along the beach and the path leading to the
observation tower in the bird rookery. BAS is also working toward opening a Visitor Center on
the Cay. WIDECAST is available to assist in developing or locating educational materials on
sea turtles that are applicable and relevant to existing and planned reserves in Belize.

In order for area management planning to be effective, residents, visitors, developers and
concessionaires must be aware of regulations in place to safeguard the environment. It is a
recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that materials be readily available to the public
and include clear descriptions of what types of activities are permitted and what types of
activities are not permitted in the management area. Permanent wooden sign boards at beach
entrances are one way to educate users. For example, a sign board may explain that beach fires
and littering are not permitted, pets must be leashed, and vehicles must be parked in designated
areas. If the nesting beach area is closed to the public at night, this should be clearly indicated.
Finally, a phone number to report violations should be provided. Other options include the
distribution of informative pamphlets and repeated information provided by the media. The
non-government conservation community can be very helpful in promoting a grassroots
understanding and appreciation of protected areas.

4.13 Prevent or mitigate degradation of nesting beaches

4.131 Sand mining

The chronic removal of sand from nesting beaches accelerates erosion and degrades or
destroys beach vegetation either by removal or by salt water inundation. In severe cases, saline
ponds are formed in unsightly pits left by mining operations. It is a recommendation of this
Recovery Action Plan that sand mining be prohibited on or near nesting beaches, as it can cause

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

erosion and beach loss even on down-current beaches by "starving" them of sand. At the present
time sand mining is legal in Belize, but a permit is required from the Officer of Geology and
Petroleum. Beach sand mining is relatively uncommon; more common is the removal of
sediments from river mouths, such as the Sibun River delta a few kilometers south of Belize
City. Studies are needed to evaluate erosion of down-current shorelines, such as at Manatee Bar,
an important hawksbill nesting site, as a result of offshore mining. Aerial photographs taken
over the course of the last several decades clearly illustrate that beaches in the Dangriga area
south of Manatee Bar have severely eroded. Offshore mining was implicated, and mining at the
mouth of the North Stann Creek River and the river "bar" has been banned for this reason. The
Office of Geology and Petroleum has requested that a coastal engineer conduct a study of the
dynamics of the shore line with regard to past and present mining activities and make
recommendations. It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that the Office of
Geology and Petroleum be fully informed of important nesting beaches so that this information
can be taken into account prior to permitting mining activity.

4.132 Lights

Sea turtle hatchlings orient to the sea using the brightness of the open ocean horizon as
their primary cue (e.g., Mrosovsky, 1972, 1978). When artificial lights, such as commercial,
residential, security or recreational lights, shine on the nesting beach, hatchlings often orient
landward toward these lights instead of toward the ocean horizon. The result is often that the
hatchlings are crushed by passing vehicles, eaten by dogs and other domestic pets, or die from
exposure in the morning sun. Nesting females are also sometimes disoriented landward by
artificial lighting. Blair Witherington, examining the problem of artificial lighting on the
beaches in Florida (US) and Tortuguero (Costa Rica), found that the presence of mercury vapor
lights all but eliminated nesting on affected beaches; nesting of green turtles and loggerheads on
beaches so lit was 1/10 and 1/20 that observed on darkened beaches (Witherington, 1992). With
this in mind, some beachfront owners in Florida have switched to low pressure sodium (LPS)
vapor lighting, which shines primarily in the 590 nm range and has little effect on nesting
females. Unfortunately, LPS lights do not appear to constitute a complete answer to this difficult
problem because they mildly attract green turtle hatchlings (though to a much lesser extent than
do mercury vapor lights; B. Witherington, Florida Dept. Natural Resources, pers. comm.).

An absence of lighting is the best guarantee that hatchlings will safely find the sea.
Where this is not an option, Witherington (1990) proposes several "next-best" solutions,
including (a) time restrictions (lights extinguished during evening hours when hatching is most
likely to occur; e.g., 1900-2300 hrs), (b) area restrictions (restrict beach lighting to areas of the
beach where little or no nesting occurs; the effectiveness of this is diminished, however, since
sources of light several km away can disrupt hatchling orientation), (c) motion sensitive lighting
(sensor activated lighting comes on only when a moving object, such as a person, approaches the
light; this might be effective in low traffic areas), (d) shielding and lowering light sources (low
intensity lighting at low elevations can be both attractive and adequate for most purposes; the
glow can be shielded from the beach by ornamental flowering hedges or other barriers), (e)
alternative light sources (LPS lighting is known to be less attractive to hatchlings than
full-spectrum white light).

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

It is important that developers and residents alike understand that sea turtles are very
sensitive to light during their reproductive period and as newly emerged hatchlings. It is a
recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that lights (even LPS lights) always be shielded
from shining directly on the beach. A common and effective method for accomplishing this is to
leave or to plant a vegetation buffer between the sea and shoreline developments. As an
alternative, shields can be built into the lighting fixture. Coastal developments in many parts of
Florida are required to turn lights out during specified evening hours during the hatchling season
so as to reduce the effects of disorientation. In 1990 the Belize Audubon Society suggested to
the Ministry of Economics that, as a matter of course for all coastal development concessions, a
clause be inserted requiring that artificial lighting not shine directly on a beach at night. Recent
applications to build beachfront resorts have been granted with the condition that there be no
"bright lighting on the beach" (section 4.13).

In the U. S. Virgin Islands, an overview of the problems posed by beachfront lighting and
potential solutions (Raymond, 1984) is issued to all developers seeking permits for projects
which may have an effect on sea turtle orientation due to lighting. Most developers now include
this information in their environmental impact assessments and are designing appropriate
lighting systems (Ralf Boulon, USVI Division of Fish and Wildlife, pers. comm.). In Barbados,
Dr. Julia Horrocks (University of the West Indies; WIDECAST Team Member) has sent out a
letter to all hotels and restaurants built near the beach asking two things, (1) that security
personnel report incidents of sea turtle nesting on the beach, and (2) that lights shining on the
beach be redirected or shaded during the breeding season. If the latter is impossible, she
suggested that staff examine the grounds each morning and "rescue" hatchlings that mistakenly
crawled away from the sea (Horrocks, 1992). We encourage such communication in Belize.

4.133 Beach stabilization structures

Most beaches are naturally dynamic. In order to protect commercial investments such as
beachfront hotels, beach stabilization typically involves the use of breakwaters, jetties,
impermeable groynes and/or seawalls. These structures are expensive and rarely effective in the
long-term. Furthermore, because they interfere with the natural longshore transport of sediment,
the armouring of one beach segment can result in the "starvation" and eventual loss of other
beach segments down-current. In addition, the armouring of beaches limits access to nesting
turtles, such as has already occurred at English Cay, Tobacco Cay, South Water Cay, Carrie Bow
Cay, and San Pedro where the best approaches to the nesting habitat are blocked. It is
noteworthy that landowners from Ambergris Cay have been involved in establishing a Voluntary
Sanctuary where conservation guidelines include agreeing not to build breakwaters or seawalls.
It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that hard engineering options to beach
protection, such as breakwaters and groynes, be regarded only as a last resort and that solid
structures be disallowed in favour of permeable structures.

The better solution to beach maintenance is an enforced construction setback adequate to
reduce or eliminate the risk of losing coastal buildings to routine erosion or violent storms.
Setback limits should be defined that reflect the damage likely to be caused to the beach and
backshore environment during a major storm, and that take into consideration beach and
backshore characteristics. Setbacks should provide for vegetated areas, including lawns and

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

dunes between hotels, homes and similar structures, and the beach proper. Setbacks of 30-40 m
and 80-100 m from the line of permanent vegetation are reasonable guidelines for upland coast
development and lowland beach coast development, respectively. Setbacks not only help to
protect coastal properties from storm damage, but also reduce overcrowding of the shorezone,
lessen the likelihood that local residents will be excluded from the beach, and enhance the
probability that artificial lighting will not shine directly on the beach.

Because of the undeveloped nature of most of its coastline, Belize still has the potential to
utilize coastal development control as a low cost solution to coastal erosion. It is a
recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that the necessary regulations be passed into law,
that the high water mark be clearly defined, and that conservative setback regulations apply to all
lowland coasts below the 10 ft (3 m) contour.

4.134 Beach cleaning equipment and vehicular use of beaches

Waste disposal has become a major concern, especially on the cays, due to increasing
resident and tourist populations. Most beaches are littered to some extent by recreational users,
garbage (e.g., household waste, automobile tyres) thrown into ghauts and washed to the coast,
ocean-borne debris and oil, and/or by sea grasses that regularly wash ashore in some areas. It is
a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that beach cleaning, when necessary, be
accomplished using hand tools such as shallow rakes and not heavy machinery or devices that
deeply incise the sand. The uppermost eggs in a loggerhead or green turtle nest commonly
incubate 15 cm (6 inches) or more beneath the surface of the beach. In contrast, hawksbills
construct shallow nests in which eggs are protected by less than 10 cm (4 inches) of overlying
sand. Damage to incubating eggs (or hatchlings awaiting an evening emergence) is easily caused
by compaction or puncture from mechanized beach cleaning techniques. If raking seaweeds by
tractor or other heavy machinery is inevitable, it should be confined to beach zones below the
mean high tide line in order to avoid the compaction of sand above incubating eggs. Repeated
compaction will kill developing embryos and tyre ruts can trap hatchlings crawling across the
beach to the sea. The Belize Audubon Society regularly sponsors beach clean-up campaigns on
Half Moon Cay (see also section 4.144).

Beach driving is not a common practice in Belize. Nevertheless, it is a recommendation
of this Recovery Action Plan that driving cars and trucks on sandy beaches should be prohibited.
Vehicles crush eggs and can kill developing or newly hatched turtles. In addition, tyre ruts are
unsightly and create hazards for hatchlings trying to reach the sea. Hatchlings fall into the ruts,
which generally run parallel to the sea, and because they cannot get out they die in the morning
sun or become an easy meal for a predator. If it becomes necessary, signs should be erected on
heavily-used beaches alerting potential drivers to the dangers vehicles pose on nesting beaches.
Fliers should also be distributed to car rental agencies. The last alternative may be to prevent
access by blocking the terminus of beach access roads.

4.135 Beach rebuilding projects

Beaches are sometimes rebuilt, or replenished, with sand from adjacent areas when
erosion of beach areas, particularly those fronting resorts, becomes economically threatening. It

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that rebuilding, when unavoidable in sea
turtle nesting areas, require that replacement sand be similar to the original material in organic
content and grain size (thereby maintaining the suitability of the beach for the incubation of sea
turtle eggs) and that rebuilding activities do not take place during the primary breeding season.
If beaches are rebuilt during the sea turtle nesting season (1 May-31 November), heavy
equipment and activity can deter nesting and crush eggs. In addition, the new overburden can
suffocate incubating eggs and prevent hatchlings from successfully digging out of the nest. The
disadvantages of renourishment are clearly seen on Cay Chapel where rebuilding resulted in a
hard compacted sand beach unusable to sea turtles for nesting. Small-scale rebuilding has
occurred elsewhere, such as in San Pedro.

It is worth noting that there is an imbalance in the system somewhere when sand is lost
from an otherwise predictable beach habitat and is not replaced by natural accretion processes.
The underlying cause can be as direct as an up-current solid jetty or pier that is literally
"starving" the down-current beaches by interrupting the constant longshore transport of sand and
sediments. Or the impetus may be more subtle, as occurs with the removal of beach vegetation
or when nearshore pollution retards the productivity of calcareous (coralline) algae and other
sand sources. The linkages between development and the persistence of sandy beaches are
complex, and should be considered with great care before construction proximal to sandy
beaches is permitted. If dunes are leveled, vegetation removed and/or jetties constructed, the
likelihood of committing the owners to repetitive and increasingly expensive rebuilding is
heightened and sometimes guaranteed.

The clearing of vegetation is a particular problem in Belize. When beach development
begins, be it private or commercial, it usually starts by clearing away all the vegetation except for
a few coconut trees. In addition to increasing the vulnerability of the cleared site to wind and
water erosion (and often incurring the loss of economically important sandy beach habitat), it is
important to remember that hawksbills often seek out vegetation for nesting (see section 2.4).
Thus, it is vital to leave beach vegetation intact where hawksbills may nest. It is a
recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that clearing within 100 feet (30 m) of the mean
high tide line be minimal and developers be required to protect native bushes and other low lying
vegetation, such as sea grape (Coccoloba sp.). Removal of beach vegetation has already led to
erosion of the shoreline both in San Pedro and at Cay Caulker. To protect property, expensive
defenses including seawalls and groynes have been erected. In the Belize City area, the removal
of coastal mangroves has also resulted in the erosion of exposed coasts.

4.14 Prevent or mitigate degradation of marine habitat

4.141 Dynamiting reefs

Dynamiting reefs removes coral substrate and is illegal. The Fisheries (Amendment)
Regulations, 1991, reads, "11. Any person who uses poison of any description or any explosive
with intent to stupefy, poison, take, or kill fish shall be guilty of an offence and liable on
summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or to imprisonment for a period
not exceeding six months." The law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing the statute is
the Compliance Unit of the Fisheries Department and the BDF Maritime Wing. Reports of viola-

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

tions should be made to the Fisheries Department. Reef-blasting is periodically carried out by
the British, on request by the Government of Belize, to create access for fishing boats near
Buttonwood Cay [N.B. coral, dominantly Acropora palmata, grows quickly in this area and
occasionally creates problems for the seasonal snapper fishery]. In addition, there was a recent
incident of blasting of a reef near Hatchet Cay to open a navigation channel. Finally, there have
been unverified reports of illegal blasting by a marine archaeological group. The dynamiting of
coral reefs can result in extensive and permanent damage to fish nursery areas, sea turtle feeding
areas, and important tourist sites. The use of explosives can also result in death to endangered
sea turtles, as was recently the case in Barbados (Julia Horrocks, pers. comm.).

4.142 Chemical fishing

Chlorine and a wide variety of other chemicals are extremely toxic to corals.
Chemical-assisted fishing is illegal in Belize under the Fisheries (Amendment) Regulations of
1991 (see section 4.141, above). The law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing the
statute is the Compliance Unit of the Fisheries Department and the BDF Maritime Wing. The
extent to which chemicals are used to stun and capture small fishes in Belize is not known.
Despite the claim of Perkins (1983) that "poisons" are used in fishing, the practice is not believed
to be widespread. Because healthy coral reef ecosystems are crucially important to sustainable
fisheries and tourism (both economically important industries in Belize), as well as to sea turtles,
it is important that fishermen engaging in chemical-assisted fishing be apprehended and
prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

4.143 Industrial discharges

Industrial discharges can contaminate marine organisms used as food by turtles, as well
as fish and shellfish consumed by man. While industrial discharges have not been identified as a
significant threat to sea turtles in Belize (largely because of the relative lack of polluting
industries), wastes dumped into the Belize River have occasionally resulted in fish kills. As the
industrial base of the country expands, the discharge or runoff of industrial waste into rivers,
aquifers and coastal areas is likely to increase. Hartshorn et al. (1984) concluded that "Belize's
primary contamination problem is water pollution" and recommended that steps be taken to,
among other things: (1) render harmless all sugar processing effluents and industrial wastes,
especially toxic chemicals like cyanide, (2) prevent chemical effects and sedimentation of rivers
and coastal waters that will eventually kill the coral reefs, (3) enforce strong legislation to
prevent contamination of ground water aquifers and rivers, and (4) improve urban and industrial
waste disposal systems. It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that industrial
discharges be monitored carefully and that legal standards be introduced and enforced. The
Environmental Protection Act (No. 22 of 1992) provides the necessary regulatory framework.
Residents should be encouraged to report pollution to the Ministry of Environment.

4.144 At-sea dumping of garbage

The dumping of waste at sea is recognized as a growing problem in the Caribbean. Death
to marine organisms as a result of ingestion or entanglement is widespread (e.g., O'Hara et al.,
1986; Laist, 1987; CEE, 1987). Several years ago, Mrosovsky (1981) summarized data showing

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

that 44% of adult non-breeding leatherbacks had plastic in their stomachs. In Belize, as is true
throughout the Caribbean Sea, dumping violations by the boating community are difficult to
monitor and require a concentrated effort at public education, coupled with stiff penalties for
offenders. A recent problem has been the disposal at sea of plastic bags by the banana industry.
These bags have been observed wrapped around corals and entangled on the prop roots of
mangroves. Balazs (1985) summarized worldwide records of ingestion of oceanic debris by sea
turtles and listed a wide variety of items consumed, including banana bags ingested by green
turtles off Costa Rica.

Garbage is a serious and growing problem in some areas, such as the Sapodilla Cays and
Goffs Cay. Manatee Bar, an important hawksbill nesting site, is heavily littered with
ocean-borne debris. Regulations enacted in 1980 made it unlawful to discharge or dump ballast,
sewage, garbage, liquids, etc. in Belize territorial waters, but enforcement is hindered by a lack
of resources (Hartshorn et al., 1984). The Environmental Protection Act (No. 22 of 1992) also
restricts dumping at sea. It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that relevant
legislation be fully enforced, and that a public awareness campaign be launched to encourage
boaters to properly dispose of waste at shore-based facilities. Announcements should be
prepared for radio and newspaper. The campaign should be sponsored jointly by the
Government, the non-government conservation community, and the national media. In 1992,
Belize, through the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, participated in the international
beach-cleanup campaign organized by the Center for Marine Conservation (Washington D.C.).

4.145 Oil exploration, production, refining, transport

Belize has no facility to dispose of or to recycle used oil. Such a facility should be
provided as a matter of urgency. Used oil is presently disposed of in any convenient way,
including spilt in coastal areas. The accumulation of tar balls and small mats of tar is an
increasing problem in some areas, such as Placencia and Ambergris Cay (and other islands near
to Belize City, the principal port). These may be the product of ballast-dumping and tanker
washing by ships outside Belizean waters (Hartshorn et al., 1984). Given the potential hazardous
effects of oil contaminants on sea grasses and coral reefs, bilge pumping and other point sources
of oil should be closely regulated. The proximity of Belize to offshore oil discoveries in
Mexican waters has spurred exploration for oil in Belizean waters. To date, there have been no
discoveries and all 40 exploratory wells were capped successfully before abandonment (see
Perkins, 1983, for details).

When we consider both the potential for shipwreck on the reef and the fact that two oil
tankers carrying a total of about 55,000 barrels of fuel visit Belize each month, the possibility of
oil spills is very real. In 1990, a minor spill occurred from an oil barge near San Pedro, and in
1988, a barge sank on its way to Belize from Honduras (Young et al., 1992). It is a
recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that an Oil Spill Contingency Plan be developed
and implemented, and that Government proceed with the acquisition of emergency equipment
and personnel training. An "ecosystem vulnerability index" to determine which ecosystems and
re-sources are most sensitive to oil pollution should be compiled (Price and Heinanen, 1992).
The vast expense of cleaning up oil spills could probably be met only through international co-
operative agreements and sharing of costs, such as are encouraged by the Protocol to the Carta-

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gena Convention concerning Oil Spills. We urge Government to accede to the Cartagena
Convention as soon as possible (see section 4.32). Article 3 of the Oil Spill Protocol states:

a. The contracting Parties shall, within their capabilities, cooperate in taking all
necessary measures, both preventive and remedial, for the protection of the marine
and coastal environment of the Wider Caribbean Region, particularly the coastal
areas of the islands of the region, from oil spill incidents.

b. The contracting parties shall, within their capabilities, establish and maintain, or
ensure the establishment and maintenance of, the means of responding to oil spill
incidents and shall endeavor to reduce the risk thereof. Such means shall include
the enactment, as necessary, or relevant legislation, the preparation of contingency
plans, the identification and development of the capability to respond to an oil spill
incident and the designation of an authority responsible for the implementation of
this protocol.

In the context of this Recovery Action Plan it is important to note that sea turtles are
potentially very vulnerable to oil spills. Behavioral studies suggest that sea turtles have a limited
ability to avoid oil slicks. Physiological experiments indicate that the respiration, skin, some
aspects of blood chemistry and composition, and salt gland function of 15-18 month old
loggerheads are seriously affected by crude oil (Vargo et al., 1986). In both experimental and
stranded oil-fouled turtles, Vargo et al. (1986) observed oil clinging to the nares and eyes and in
the upper portion of the esophagus; oil was also found in the feces. Chemical analysis of the
internal organs of the stranded turtles provided clear evidence that crude oil from tanker
discharge had been ingested. Since hawksbills are of particular concern in Belize, it is
noteworthy that hawksbills (predominantly juveniles) accounted for only 2.2% (34/1551) of the
total sea turtle strandings in Florida between 1980-1984, yet comprised 28.0% of
petroleum-related strandings. Oil and tar fouling was both external and internal. Carr (1987b)
reported juvenile hawksbills (to 20 cm) "stranded [in Florida] with tar smeared sargassum";
some had ingested tar.

4.146 Agricultural runoff and sewage

In 1982 only about 15% of the arable land was under cultivation or used for grazing
cattle, and agriculture was identified as the highest priority for development in Belize (Perkins,
1983). The potential effects of siltation due to clearing additional land and of contamination of
rivers and nearshore waters by pesticides and fertilizers should be assessed. Local fish kills have
already been reported in Belize rivers due to the runoff of agricultural chemicals. The CZM
Project has initiated a reef assessment programme to monitor the effects of agro-chemical runoff
on corals. It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that discharge of untreated
sewage be monitored, as well. The greatest effect of agro-chemicals and sewage on sea turtles is
likely to be the effect of these chemicals on important habitats, such as coral reefs, because the
barrier reef ecosystem is inextricably linked to mainland activities via the numerous rivers that
transport inland runoff to the sea. Siltation from soil erosion due to deforestation and chemical
contamination of waters from the application of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers have
caused coral deaths by suffocation and toxic pollution in other parts of the world (Perkins, 1983).

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4.147 Others (anchoring, dredging, land reclamation)

Indiscriminate anchoring is a serious environmental problem throughout the Caribbean.
The destruction of coral can sometimes be irreparable in our lifetime, and with the loss of our
reefs will come the loss of all vertebrate and invertebrate species that depend on the reefs.
Furthermore, channels and holes in the reef structure left by repetitive anchoring can alter current
and tidal patterns and promote the erosion of bottom sediments. The devastation of our coral
reefs will eventually (and sooner rather than later) destroy not only the marine-based tourism
economy, but local fisheries and many shoreline investments which are now protected by
extensive reef formation offshore. Mooring buoys have been installed in the Hol Chan Marine
Reserve and at Lighthouse Reef. The CZM Project plans to expand the system to all popular
dive sites. It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that a national system of
moorings be established. Inexpensive and effective mooring technologies (e.g., Halas, 1985)
make such a recommendation attainable.

Dredging and land reclamation activities affecting the coastline and inshore waters can
severely degrade sea turtle foraging and refuge areas. All such activities should be conducted in
such a way as to minimize damage to benthic communities resulting from turbidity. Turbidity
(suspended sediment) degrades and smothers, sometimes fatally, surrounding coral reefs and sea
grass beds. Dredging operations have been a problem in the Belize City area, around Ambergris
Cay, and around some of the other cays. Permits are required for dredging by the Inspector of
Mines, Office of Petroleum and Geology. At the time of their writing, Hartshorn et al. (1984)
found "no evidence that environmental considerations are examined prior to port maintenance
(e.g., dredging) or development activities." Today the situation has improved, as evidenced by
the fact that site assessments are routinely performed by the Office of Geology and Petroleum in
collaboration with the Fisheries Department.

4.2 Manage and Protect all Life Stages

4.21 Review existing local laws and regulations

Sea turtles are currently protected by the Fisheries Regulations of 1977, but the Fisheries
(Amendment) Regulations of 1993 will substantially strengthen existing law. Under the 1977
Regulations, it is illegal to "export or attempt to export any turtle or any articles made from any
part of a turtle otherwise than under a license granted by the Minister", to take turtles "found on
the shores of Belize and adjacent cays thereof', to "set or attempt to set within 100 yards of the
shores of Belize or of the adjacent cays thereof any net or seine or other instrument whatsoever
for the purpose or with the intent of taking turtles", to take or possess "any turtle eggs", to take or
possess any turtle from 1 June to 31 August, and to take, buy, sell or possess loggerheads less
than 30 lb, or greens or hawksbills less than 50 lb. A commercial fisherman's license at the cost
of B$ 2.00 is necessary in order to take turtles (a fisherman must indicate at the time of licensing
that he wishes his license to include sea turtles). There is a maximum fine of B$ 500.00 for
persons convicted of violating the Fisheries Regulations.

The Fisheries (Amendment) Regulations of 1993 will read as follows:

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

10. (1) No person shall fish, sell, purchase or have in his possession
any turtle, other than turtles of the species Dermatemys mawii (com-
monly known as hickatee), during the period from the 1st April to
the 31st October, inclusive, in any year.
(2) No person shall take any turtle found on land.
(3) No person shall interfere with any turtle nest.

11. No person shall disturb, damage, take, sell, purchase or have in his
possession any turtle eggs.

12. No person shall set or attempt to set within one hundred yards of the
shores of Belize or of the adjacent cayes thereof any net or seine, or
other instrument whatsoever for the purpose or with the intent of tak-
ing turtles.

12.(A) No person shall fish, sell, purchase or have in his possession any tur-
tle of the following description:
(1) Chelonia mydas, commonly known as green turtle, greater than
60 cm (24 in) curved carapace length;
(2) Caretta caretta, commonly known as loggerhead turtle, greater
than 60 cm (24 in) curved carapace length.

12.(B) [ specifies restrictions pertaining to D. mawii

12.(C) No person shall import, bring into Belize in transit or export any
turtle without a valid permit issued by the Minister.

12.(D) (1) No person shall buy, sell, or have in his possession any articles
made of turtle shell;
(2) Any person who on the date of entry into force of these Regula-
tions has in his possession any articles made of turtle shell (a) may
detain such articles for personal use; (b) shall not sell such articles
later than 31st July, 1993.

13. No person shall at any time fish, sell, purchase or have in his posses-
sion any turtle of the species Eretmochelys imbricata, commonly
known as hawksbill turtle.

Editor's note: Four species of sea turtle (loggerhead, green, hawksbill, leatherback) were
briefly protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1981 but were removed from the schedule
in January 1982 on the grounds that the designation contradicted existing Fisheries legislation.

4.22 Evaluate the effectiveness of law enforcement

Conservation law enforcement could be much improved, but this will require greater will
and expanded resources on the part of the Government. It will also require a greater commit-

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

ment on the part of the citizenry to obey conservation legislation. Both the Fisheries legislation
and the Wildlife Protection Act grant the Minister powers to appoint enforcement personnel. In
the first case, Fishery Officers are appointed to "carry into effect the provisions of the Fisheries
Act and Regulations made thereunder". To date, these include all members of the Maritime
Wing of the Belize Defence Force, the Manager and Biologist for Hol Chan Marine Reserve, and
Fisheries Department personnel. In addition, any member of the Management Committee of a
fishing co-operative can be so appointed. In the case of wildlife regulations, a Game Warden
and game rangers are given powers of search, seizure and arrest to enforce the Wildlife
Protection Act.

Enforcement is crucial to the long-term success of any legal protection of endangered
species. In recognition of this fact, increased enforcement capabilities were recommended in the
National Fisheries Development Plan (1983-1988). With funding from the U. S. Agency for
International Development, the Fisheries Department has recently established a Compliance Unit
which has five new patrol boats. Two law enforcement officers have been hired for each boat, in
addition to an administrative officer and a mechanic. The Unit greatly enhances the
Department's surveillance and enforcement capabilities. Arrests, convictions, and confiscations
are on the rise and regular marine patrols are having a palpable effect on illegal fishing. One
patrol boat is based in Punta Gorda; the other four are based in Belize City.

4.23 Propose new regulations where needed

4.231 Eggs

The taking or possession of eggs is prohibited at all times (section 4.21). Thus there is no
need for a new law, but rather for more effective enforcement of the existing law. Egg poaching
is widespread, particularly in the southern Sapodilla Cays (Smith, 1990b) (see also section 3.3).
The annual nationwide theft of eggs has been estimated at 10,000 (Miller, 1984), but the actual
volume is not known. The protection of eggs is important to the recovery of sea turtle
populations nesting in Belize. Adult females are believed to return to their natal beaches to
deposit their eggs. It is self-evident that if too few eggs are allowed to hatch, there will be no
future generations of sea turtles. Natural mortality is high and less than one percent of the eggs
laid will reach adulthood. Therefore, many thousands of eggs are needed to sustain a population.
Eggs should be carefully protected to ensure that as many as possible hatch successfully.

4.232 Immature turtles

Earlier drafts of this Recovery Action Plan urged the Government to revise the Fisheries
Regulations of 1977 because they sanctioned the continued take of large juveniles and
breeding-age adults during a nine-month open season (1 September-31 May). Traditional
fisheries regulations which protect small juvenile size classes reflect a conventional wisdom that
it is unwise to harvest an animal before it has had a chance to breed. This argument is
appropriate for fishes and crustaceans with relatively short life spans. Most species of sea turtle,
however, require upwards of two decades to reach sexual maturity in the Western Atlantic and
Caribbean (Frazer and Ehrhart, 1985; Frazer and Ladner, 1986). In some parts of the world,
green turtles may not breed until they reach nearly a half century in age (Balazs, 1982).

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

It is imperative that sea turtle conservation regulations reflect the biological realities of
long-lived species; that is, that regulations protect large juveniles rather than small juveniles. We
are pleased that the Ministry heeded our recommendations (see also Appendix I) and that the
Fisheries (Amendment) Regulations of 1993 will fully protect green and loggerhead sea turtles
larger than 60 cm shell length. These individuals have reached approximately ten years of age
and it can be shown mathematically that they are dramatically more "valuable" to the future
reproductive potential of the population than are the younger turtles (cf. Frazer, 1989). Natural
rates of mortality are high for eggs and small turtles, which are constantly replenished from
productivity on the beaches. In contrast, larger juveniles represent many years of selective
survival and their loss, especially in populations already declining, can be catastrophic.

This is not to say, however, that the continued harvest of any immature sea turtle is
warranted in Belize since it has been established that sea turtle populations are declining and it is
well known that no one depends on sea turtle-derived income for a major portion of their
livelihood. It is the view of this Recovery Action Plan that any harvest in declining populations
is counter-productive to the goal of population recovery and so while we applaud the advances
made in the 1993 Regulations, we view the Regulations as a short-term compromise between a
full moratorium on the one hand and the continued take of large juveniles and breeding-age
adults on the other. We urge Government to enact an unconditional moratorium on all species of
sea turtle, as has already been done on behalf of the hawksbill (section 4.21). In the interim, a
detailed study of income derived from fishing turtles should be undertaken and credible
alternatives for turtle fishermen should be formulated by the Fisheries Department (section 4.26).

4.233 Nesting females

The Fisheries Regulations prohibit the taking of nesting females on the beach at all times
(section 4.21). Determined enforcement is needed in this regard.

4.234 Unprotected species
Although rare in Belizean waters, endangered leatherback and Kemp's ridley sea turtles
are occasionally reported (section II). Neither species is mentioned under the current fisheries
law. Both are internationally recognized to be endangered species and should be fully protected.

4.24 Augment existing law enforcement efforts

Recognizing that environmental law is becoming increasingly important and increasingly
technical in Belize, as is the case throughout the Caribbean region, it is a recommendation of this
Recovery Action Plan that the Division of Environmental Enforcement be established. Officers
should be trained in environmental law and enforcement procedures and be responsible for
regulations concerning mining and minerals, pollution, protected species, fisheries and marine
resources, boater safety, game and hunting, coastal zone permits and compliance, etc. A national
workshop should be convened to better inform all branches of law enforcement of conservation
regulations and the urgent need to consistently enforce domestic and international laws
protecting turtles, lobsters, conchs, etc. A Manual of existing environmental legislation should
be developed for public distribution.

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

Enforcement of Fisheries Regulations is particularly difficult on the offshore cays.
Almost every confirmed nesting site is inhabited by fishermen and coconut pickers, particularly
just before and after lobster season opens on 15 July, and those few not inhabited are usually
close to inhabited areas and regularly visited (Smith, 1990b). Where enforcement is hampered
by remote conditions or limited personnel, citizens should be encouraged to share in the
responsibility by reporting violations. Citizens should also become more involved in lobbying
for more effective law enforcement programmes. It is a recommendation of this Recovery
Action Plan that citizens become familiar with laws protecting wildlife so that they can report
violations. With the support of the local community, enforcement resources are more efficiently
utilized. And as more people become involved in reporting violations, it will become increasing-
ly difficult for wrongdoers to ignore wildlife laws. The Department of Fisheries sponsors an
Environmental Hotline to enable citizens to report illegal activities, injured wildlife, etc.

In order to enhance compliance with the 1993 Fisheries Regulations, which allow the
take of young loggerhead and green turtles during a five-month open season but protect
hawksbills at all times, trammel nets should either be banned (as has recently been done in St.
Lucia) or set so that they float to the surface, allowing captured sea turtles to breathe. Fishermen
should be required to check nets frequently to minimize the prospects of accidentally drowning
protected species and size classes.

4.25 Make fines commensurate with product value

The existing maximum fine (B$ 500) for violation of the Fisheries Regulations is
commensurate with the legal, local value of the product. However, it is a recommendation of
this Recovery Action Plan that a maximum monetary penalty of B$ 5,000 be adopted to convey
the message that violations against the Fisheries Regulations are viewed as a serious offence. As
the closed season lengthens and ultimately culminates in year-around protection for endangered
sea turtles, potential black marketeers are not likely to be deterred by a B$ 500 fine.

4.26 Investigate alternative livelihoods for turtle fishermen

No one depends on income derived from sea turtles to provide a majority portion of their
living, but the monies earned are important in some cases and consideration should be given to
the fishermen still fishing primarily turtles in Belize. Fewer than ten men are involved, most are
50 years of age or older, and they also fish for fish, lobster, and/or conch. The government has
been requested by the Belize Audubon Society, Programme For Belize, and Belize Center for
Environmental Studies to limit permits to fish turtles to only those fishermen who have
traditionally fished turtles, thus gradually allowing turtle fishing to disappear. To date there has
been no response to this request. "Traditional" turtle fishermen are defined to be those men who
have fished specifically for turtles in the past, as indicated on their fishing license.

It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that the Department of Fisheries
consider purchasing turtle nets and/or offering training and other support toward increasing
income derived from reef fish. The deployment of Fish Attracting Devices (FADs) and the
designation of additional Marine Reserves could also increase fish recruitment. Before
reasonable alternatives can be formulated, the extent to which fishermen will be affected by a

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

moratorium on the capture of turtles should be determined. Surveys have already been
conducted by Fisheries personnel on the market side of the equation. In the summer of 1991,
hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and selected citizens were asked to describe any concerns or
reservations they had regarding removing sea turtle meat and products (e.g., shell jewelry) from
the marketplace. An overwhelming 97% responded that eliminating sea turtles from their menu
or product lines would not adversely affect their businesses.

To the extent possible, bearing in mind that formal records have not been kept, a Sea
Turtle Fishery Frame Survey should determine: (1) number of men active in the turtle fishery, (2)
number of turtles caught per year, (3) species and size classes caught, (4) capture methods, (5)
capture/landing sites, (6) catch per unit effort, (7) gear in possession, (8) gear used and frequency
of use, (9) cost of gear, (10) market price for turtle meat and products, (11) income and
proportion of total income derived from turtles. Historical trends in catch per unit effort are also
important. Do hunters travel further today than they did 20 years ago to obtain turtles? Set their
nets (or wait on the nesting beach) for longer periods of time? With Frame Survey data in hand,
tenable scenarios for enhancing alternative sources of income can be developed and
implemented. The Frame Survey will also provide an opportunity for Fisheries personnel to talk
with fishermen about the endangered status of sea turtles, stress the importance of a
Caribbean-wide moratorium on these migratory species, and solicit comments on a national

The following points should be emphasized when talking to fishermen:

1. Sea turtles are long-lived, reaching sexual maturity in 20-35 years.
2. Mortality is high in young juvenile stages, but extremely low for fully
armoured large juveniles and adults.
3. Adult females average five clutches of eggs per year and nest every 2-5
years; under natural conditions females live for many years and lay thou-
sands of eggs in order that populations remain stable.
4. Unfortunately, large turtles have historically been targeted because they
provide the most meat; Fisheries laws usually protect only small turtles.
5. Egg-bearing adult females are taken in disproportionate numbers because
they are easily obtained from the nesting beach.
6. Harvesting large turtles, especially gravid females, is the surest way to
invite population collapse (this has been observed at rookeries throughout
the world and is easily shown mathematically).
7. Sea turtle populations cannot sustain the persistent harvest of large
juvenile and adult animals.
8. Nesting populations have been greatly reduced or exterminated all over
the Caribbean, including in Belize, because adults are not survi-ving long
enough to produce the next generation (the widespread harvest of eggs
only exacerbates this problem).
9. The fact that nesting populations have been decimated but juvenile turtles
are still seen is not surprising -- the stocks are unrelated.
10. Juveniles travel widely during the many years prior to maturity local
juveniles are not residents, they are a shared regional resource.

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

11. Nesting females, which return to Belize at regular intervals to lay their
eggs on beaches where they were born many years ago, leave Belize at the
end of the nesting season and return to resident feeding areas which are
most likely located in distant countries.
12. All nations must work together if this shared resource is to survive.

4.27 Determine incidental catch and promote the use of TEDs

Despite a relatively small shrimping industry, several hundred sea turtles may be
captured annually incidental to this fishery. Carr et al. (1982) reported that "in July 1978, shrimp
trawling was just beginning in Belize, and reports of turtle deaths in trawls were already coming
in." Gillett (1987) reported to the Second Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium that the fleet had
expanded from seven to 11 boats and that "conservative estimates" placed the 1986/87 season's
incidental catch from seven vessels at 700 turtles, mostly hawksbills and green turtles. Turtles
are not the only bycatch concern. A recent study estimated that finfish bycatch exceeds by more
than five times the annual finfish export. As the majority of the bycatch consists of juvenile
fishes which are simply discarded at sea, "the consequent reduction in the spawning stock may
produce a significant impact" (RDA International, 1991). The same can be said for sea turtles;
that is, the persistent drowning of turtles in trawls may result in fewer turtles surviving to
reproductive age. The U. S. National Academy of Sciences has concluded that shrimp trawling
results in more sea turtle deaths in U. S. waters than all other human activities combined and is
an important factor in the continuing decline of nesting populations of loggerhead turtles
(National Research Council, 1990). Shrimp vessels operating in U. S. waters are now required to
use turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in their trawls during all times of the year (Crouse, 1993).

In response to a 1989 law (Appendix II) passed in the United States to "ban the
importation of shrimp or products from shrimp... [unless] (a) the government of the harvesting
nation has provided documentary evidence of the adoption of a regulatory program governing
the incidental taking of sea turtles in the course of such harvesting that is comparable to that of
the United States, (b) the average rate of that incidental taking by the vessels of the harvesting
nation is comparable to the average rate of incidental taking of sea turtles by United States
vessels in the course of such harvesting, or (c) the particular fishing environment of the
harvesting nation does not pose a threat of the incidental taking of sea turtles in the course of
such harvesting", the Government of Belize submitted a report to the U. S. Department of State
outlining a three-year program for the conservation of sea turtles by its shrimping industry. In
this report, government officials acknowledged the problem of incidental catch and endorsed the
idea that TEDs be required when fishing in Belizean waters.

A short-term study undertaken by RDA International for the Government of Belize "to
identify qualitative and quantitative attributes of the bycatch in shrimp trawls" reported six
turtles (four loggerheads, two green turtles) caught in 188 drags in the Inner Channel. Three
were caught in five days in September 1990 and three were caught during two weeks in
January-February 1991. Extrapolation suggested that a total of 87 turtles would have been
captured during the 1990/91 shrimp season (RDA International, 1991). Based on interviews
with shrimp fishermen, the authors of this Recovery Action Plan learned that shrimp trawlers
catch greater numbers of turtles when trawling near the coast and there are certain areas where

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

turtles can be expected to be caught by the trawlers. Also, beach residents in Placencia have re-
ported seeing trawlers fishing just off the beach where hawksbills regularly nest. We believe that
the annual fleet catch is likely to be greater than 87 turtles and that it includes gravid females
which are fully protected by law. It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that any
national conservation programme for the recovery of depleted sea turtle stocks necessarily
include the mandatory use of TEDs at all times by trawlers operating in Belizean waters.

The Government recently reaffirmed its intention to make the use of TEDs compulsory
on all shrimp trawlers and promised to take "appropriate measures to reduce incidental mortality,
including the use of TEDs by all shrimp vessels operating at times and in areas where there is a
threat of taking sea turtles" (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in litt. to the U. S. Department of State,
1991). In addition to improvements in sea turtle conservation legislation and the preparation of
management plans for important sea turtle habitat, the Government has stated that "TEDs will be
deployed on all commercial shrimp trawl vessels operating in the waters of Belize by May 1,
1994. Further, in order to achieve this goal, the Government of Belize will begin during 1992
with testing and evaluation of TEDs and will have TEDs in use on a significant number of
commercial shrimp vessels by May 1, 1993" (Government of Belize, 1992). Representatives of
both Government and the fishing industry in Belize participated in a TED Workshop conducted
by the U. S. National Marine Fisheries Service in Panama in February 1991 (William
Gibbons-Fly, U. S. State Department, pers. comm.). Since the trawlers operating in Belizean
waters are foreign (Honduran) vessels and a permit is needed to trawl and land shrimp in Belize,
the use of TEDs could logically be required as a prerequisite for such a permit.

In addition to the incidental catch of sea turtles by shrimpers, other fishing industries in
Belize also catch turtles. For example, the use of gill nets to catch finfish and sharks seems to be
on the increase and gill nets are well known to catch and drown sea turtles in Belize (Will Eiley,
fisherman, pers. comm.). Gill nets have been observed set in waters adjoining Manatee Bar, the
most important hawksbill nesting beach in Belize, during the nesting season. With an estimated
20-25 hawksbills nesting on this beach each year, the loss of even one drowned turtle could have
adverse effects on the population (Smith, 1991). Longline vessels unintentionally hook sea
turtles. The capture of sea turtles by longlines has been documented in the northeast Caribbean
(e.g., Tobias, 1991; Eckert et al., 1992; Fuller et al., 1992), the southeastern U. S. (Witzell,
1984), and the Gulf of Mexico (Hildebrand, 1987). It is not known how long the turtles survive
after being released with a large hook embedded in their mouth or throat. A small longline
industry targeting sharks outside the barrier reef has recently begun and is reportedly hooking
leatherback turtles. It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that all incidents of sea
turtle capture be reported to the Fisheries Department, allowing the extent of incidental catch to
be determined and mitigating measures taken.

4.28 Supplement reduced populations using management techniques

There are several management techniques that are likely to benefit sea turtles in Belize.
For example, beach predator control (removal/relocation) and/or individual nest protection using
wire mesh or netting should be implemented when field studies indicate that such measures are
necessary. Near complete depredation of eggs laid at the Manatee Bar nesting area by raccoons
prompted a successful pilot programme to protect nests in 1992 using netting (Smith, 1993). Sea

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

turtle conservationists have learned a great deal in recent years from participating in
WIDECAST and attending annual symposia on the Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles in
the USA. The information gained and contacts made, as well as materials such as the "WATS
Manual" (Pritchard et al., 1983) that are available to conservationists in Belize, will help us
evaluate threats and design appropriate responses. Management techniques such as
"head-starting" and other captive rearing schemes have yet to demonstrate conservation benefit
to wild populations and are beyond the capabilities and facilities presently available in Belize.
These options are not considered a priority. We are confident that much can be accomplished by
the vigilant protection of wild turtles and the long-term conservation of terrestrial and marine
habitat. Monitoring programmes, discussed below, are essential in order to detect new threats as
they emerge and to evaluate the success of ongoing management programmes.

4.29 Monitor stocks

4.291 Nests

It is very important to monitor trends in sea turtle productivity. The easiest way to do this
is to count nests on the beach. The sooner this is initiated the better, because it will take many
years to identify statistically significant population trends using nest numbers. Under normal
circumstances the numbers of females breeding in any given year fluctuate widely, presumably
because of physiological differences amongst females and variations in ambient conditions, such
as food availability. Therefore, long-term databases are needed to accurately document
population dynamics. In Belize we must start with the reality that sea turtle nesting has declined
(older turtle fishermen interviewed in Belize reported larger numbers of turtles nesting on
beaches when they were children than at present; Smith, 1989, 1990b) and now we must do what
we can to protect remaining nests from egg poaching, feral and exotic predators, man-induced
beach erosion, and habitat degradation. Only in this way, and coupled with the conservation of
other life stages, can we ensure the continued survival of the sea turtle in Belize.

Nest counts should be initiated on a priority basis on nesting beaches known to be
important to sea turtles (e.g., Ambergris Cay, Manatee bar) and in areas thought to be important
and known to have high levels of poaching (e.g., Sapodilla Cays). Surveys should occur on a
regular basis so that "trends" do not emerge simply as a result of the fact that beaches received
more coverage during certain days of the week, or certain months of the year. Crawls should be
smoothed over after being counted so that they are not counted twice; this also protects the nest
somewhat against poaching. Beaches should be surveyed for hawksbill nesting at dawn, ideally
daily (the crawl is faint and easily obscured) but at least three times a week. All data should be
coordinated by a designated government or non-government entity. Annual surveys are ongoing
at Manatee Bar.

We have had good success with our nest monitoring programme to date. For instance, as
described by Smith (1990c) in the Belize Audubon Society (BAS) Newsletter, by 1988 high
levels of visitation to nesting areas on the northern coast of Ambergris Cay had resulted in >30%
of the nests there being disturbed. In response, the BAS, with help from the Fisheries
Department and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve (and financial support from Programme for
Belize, landowners Jo and Wayne Castleberry, and the North Ambergris Cay Property Owners

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Association) organized beach patrols by volunteers to protect the nests laid in 1989 and 1990.
Volunteers stayed 15 miles north of San Pedro for intervals of one week and patrolled the beach
daily throughout the nesting season. As a result, only a few nests were disturbed and the people
responsible left future nests alone, after seeing volunteers patrolling and learning about their
work to protect the sea turtles. Thousands of hatchling turtles have thus been protected and
poaching has been nearly eliminated.

4.292 Hatchlings

When possible, nests should be monitored for hatching in order to assess hatchling
mortality due to disorientation (from artificial light sources shining on the beach, see section
4.132), depredation, and other sources (harassment from people, entanglement in beach debris,
etc.). Monitored nests should be exhumed post-hatching by trained personnel and hatch success
and embryo mortality should be determined. This will not be possible at every site, but a
representative sample is useful in quantifying hatchling production. At present, nests are
monitored at Manatee Bar. Once hatchlings leave the beaches of Belize their whereabouts are
unknown. During recent interviews, two fishermen reported having seen "young turtles in drift
lines of ocean weeds in the Bay of Honduras" and a few fishermen had also observed "very
young turtles near mangroves at Turneffe, San Pedro and Hunting Cay" (Smith, 1989).
Monitoring hatch-lings at sea is not feasible at this time.

4.293 Immature and adult turtles

The monitoring of sea turtle populations in the water is no easy task and requires
systematic surveys of known foraging grounds. If such surveys are undertaken in conjunction
with a tagging programme, it is possible to evaluate not only trends in abundance at the feeding
ground, but also foraging behavior and the movements of individuals (since a tagged turtle may
be recaptured elsewhere). Nonetheless, it is not imperative to tag individuals. Valuable data can
be obtained by repeated surveillance of foraging areas with documentation of the number of
turtles seen. Fisheries statistics would be useful in evaluating historical trends in sea turtle
abundance, with the caveat that the take of small juveniles is not reported because it constitutes
an illegal catch. Market surveys may also yield helpful information and should be initiated.

The use of laparoscopy and other sophisticated techniques can also shed light on the
status of populations by assisting in the determination of breeding state, breeding history,
recruitment rate, and a variety of other vital statistics. These kinds of studies have been ongoing
in the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem of eastern Australia for many years and have yielded
valuable information regarding the status of sea turtle populations there (Colin Limpus,
Queensland National Parks, pers. comm.). It would be most useful to employ telemetry to
ascertain the foraging grounds of the Manatee Bar hawksbill population, and then proceed to
study the population at both the nesting and feeding ground. This would allow a much more
accurate determination of the status of this population.

4.3 Encourage and Support International Cooperation

4.31 CITES

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The 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES) was established to protect certain endangered species from over-exploitation by
means of a system of import/export permits. The Convention regulates international commerce
in animals and plants whether dead or alive, and any recognizable parts or derivatives thereof.
Appendix I lists endangered species (including all species of sea turtle), trade in which is tightly
controlled; Appendix II lists species that may become endangered unless trade is regulated;
Appendix III lists species that any Party wishes to regulate and requires international cooperation
to control trade; Appendix IV contains model permits. Permits are required for species listed in
appendices I and II stating that export/import will not be detrimental to the survival of the
species. CITES is one of the most widely supported wildlife treaties of all time. With the recent
accession of Barbados, the Convention has 118 Parties (USFWS, 1992).

Belize is a Party to CITES, having registered a Declaration of Succession on 21
September 1981 (Brautigam, 1987; UNEP, 1989). In addition, the export of turtle products is
illegal under Belizean law, except with a special permit from the Minister of Agriculture and
Fisheries. Enforcement of CITES is problematic because Customs Officers are not trained to
recognize endangered species or products derived therefrom, and regular checks do not occur. It
is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that training be provided for Customs officials
with regard to the details of implementing CITES. Such training should include identification of
animal and plant parts and products, the proper issuance of documents, permit fraud, shipping
container standards, the transport of live animals, methods of search and seizure, etc. The need
for such training should be communicated to John Gavitt, Enforcement Officer, CITES
Secretariat, 6 rue du Maupas, Case postal 78, 1000 Lausanne 9, Switzerland.

Large volumes of raw hawksbill shell (tortoiseshell, or "bekko") have been exported
during the last two decades. Of the approximately 5,200 hawksbills estimated to have been
taken from the waters of Belize for export to Japan from 1970-1986, more than 4,000 were
exported after 1981 (Milliken and Tokunaga, 1987). Current export statistics are not available,
but reliable reports indicate that the trade continues illegally. The cumulative effect of the
international market on Caribbean sea turtles, especially hawksbills, should not be
underestimated. Because Japan entered a "reservation" on some sea turtle species when it joined
CITES, Japanese imports of tortoiseshell from 1970-1989 totalled 713,850 kg, representing
>670,000 turtles; more than half of these imports originated in the Caribbean and Latin America
(Milliken and Tokunaga, 1987, updated by Greenpeace to 1989). In addition, from 1970-1987
Japan imported 675,247 kg of stuffed hawksbills (Greenpeace, 1989). Milliken and Tokunaga
(1987) estimated that in order to maintain these levels of importation, the annual slaughter of at
least 28,000 hawksbills was required. Between 1970 and June 1989, Japan imported 368,318 kg
of bekko from the Wider Caribbean . the equivalent of more than a quarter million turtles
(Canin, 1989).

Because all nations of western Europe, as well as North, Central and South America,
belong to CITES, it is illegal for tourists returning home to these countries to bring sea turtle
items with them. Furthermore, it is technically illegal for Belizean merchants to knowingly sell
sea turtle items to tourists without issuing them a CITES export permit. By selling and
purchasing tortoiseshell, merchants and tourists unwittingly (and illegally) contribute to the
further decline of sea turtles in the Caribbean region.

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4.32 Regional treaties

In 1940, the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western
Hemisphere was negotiated under the auspices of the Pan American Union. Twelve of the
parties to the Western Hemisphere Convention are in the wider Caribbean region. However, the
Convention contains no mechanism for reaching decisions binding upon the parties, but leaves
each party to implement the treaty's provisions as it find "appropriate". The Bonn Convention
for the Conservation of Migratory Wild Animals, if ratified by enough nations in the wider
Caribbean, could be an effective tool in the conservation of migratory species, such as sea turtles.
It was developed to deal with all threats to migratory species, including habitat destruction and
taking for domestic consumption. Unfortunately, only France, the Netherlands and the United
Kingdom, among nations with claims in the Caribbean Sea, have signed this Convention.

A relatively recent regional environmental Convention that shows great promise is the
United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Regional Seas Convention in the Caribbean,
known as the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the
Wider Caribbean Region (or, the "Cartagena Convention"). The Convention is coupled with an
Action Plan, known as the Action Plan for the Caribbean Environment Programme (APCEP).
The First Intergovernmental Meeting on APCEP was convened by UNEP in cooperation with the
Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) in Montego Bay, Jamaica, 6-8 April 1981.
The representatives of Governments from 22 States in the region (Belize was not represented)
adopted APCEP at this meeting and established the Caribbean Trust Fund to support common
costs and activities associated with the implementation of the Action Plan.

In March, 1983, a Conference of Plenipotentiaries met in Cartagena, Colombia to
negotiate the "Cartagena Convention". Representatives from 16 States participated (again, Belize
was not represented). The Conference adopted both the Convention and a Protocol concerning
cooperation in combating oil spills in the region. The Convention describes the responsibilities
of Contracting Parties to "prevent, reduce and control" pollution from a variety of sources (i.e.,
pollution from ships, from at-sea dumping of waste, from land-based sources, from sea-bed
activities, and from airborne sources). Article 10 is of special interest in that it addresses the
responsibilities of Contracting Parties to "individually or jointly, take all appropriate measures to
protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems, as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or
endangered species, in the Convention area." The Cartagena Convention entered into force on
11 October 1986.

In January 1990, a Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW)
to the Cartagena Convention was adopted by a Conference of Plenipotentiaries, providing a
mechanism whereby species of wild fauna and flora could be protected on a regional scale. The
landmark Protocol grants explicit protection to species listed in three categories, or annexes.
Annex I includes species of flora exempt from all forms of destruction or disturbance. Annex II
ensures total protection and recovery to listed species of fauna, with minor exceptions.
Specifically, Annex II listing prohibits (a) the taking, possession or killing (including, to the
extent possible, the incidental taking, possession or killing) or commercial trade in such species,
their eggs, parts or products, and (b) to the extent possible, the disturbance of such species,
particularly during periods of breeding, incubation, estivation or migration, as well as other

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periods of biological stress. Annex III denotes species in need of "protection and recovery", but
subject to a regulated harvest.

On 11 June 1991, Plenipotentiaries again met in Kingston, Jamaica, to formally adopt the
Annexes. The Conference voted unanimously to include all six species of sea turtle inhabiting
the Wider Caribbean (i.e., Caretta caretta, Chelonia mydas, Eretmochelys imbricata,
Dermochelys coriacea, Lepidochelys kempi, and L. olivacea in Annex II (UNEP, 1991; Eckert,
1991). The unanimous vote on this issue is a clear statement on the part of Caribbean
governments that the protection of regionally depleted species, including sea turtles, is a priority.
While Belize has been a regular financial contributor to the Caribbean Environment Programme
Trust Fund, as of 31 July 1992 Belize had not yet ratified the Cartagena Convention (UNEP,
1992). It is a recommendation of this Recovery Action Plan that the Cartagena Convention and
its Protocols be ratified by Belize as soon as possible.

4.33 Subregional sea turtle management

It is clear that while some sea turtle stocks may be resident in the waters of Belize, many
of the sea turtles observed at sea and especially on the nesting beaches are migrants. Based on
tag return data, Belize shares its sea turtles not only with adjacent Mexico and Guatemala, but
also with the United States, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and Venezuela. During recent interviews,
tags were solicited from turtle fishermen. Of six tags obtained, five were taken from green
turtles tagged in Costa Rica and one from a hawksbill apparently tagged in Guatemala (the tag
bore a Guatemalan address). The men reported they had recently captured a second hawksbill
apparently tagged in Guatemala, as well as a green turtle tagged in Mexico (Smith, 1990b).
Sternberg (1981), in a global summary of sea turtle nesting beaches, reports loggerhead,
hawksbill, leatherback, and green turtles nesting in Belize and Guatemala from Cabo de Tres
Puntas to the Rio Montagua, and contiguous with Mexico to the north and Honduras to the south.

Both Guatemalan and Honduran fishermen regularly enter Belizean waters to fish.
Similarly, some Belizean fishermen collect eggs on Manabique beach in Guatemala. One man
interviewed reported that he knew the Manabique area well and "despite patrols many eggs were
taken because so much money could be made"; three or four men could return with as many as
1200 eggs (Smith, 1990b). It is clear that bilateral or subregional (e.g., Central America and
Mexico) agreements on the subject of sea turtle conservation, including the problems of egg
collection and the incidental catch of turtles in commercial fisheries, would be highly desirable.
Furthermore, mutual adherence to international agreements such as the Cartagena Convention
and SPAW Protocol (section 4.32) could serve as a basis for multilateral protection.

In recent years, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence analysis has proven useful for
resolving sea turtle population structure, and thus elucidating the extent to which the sea turtle
resource is shared among nations. Dr. Brian Bowen (Project Director, Genetic Analysis Core,
Univ. Florida) has recently obtained, through harmless techniques, valuable samples of genetic
material from Belizean sea turtles. We look forward to the results of this important research and
to obtaining data that will assist us in our efforts to conserve our sea turtles.

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4.4 Develop Public Education

4.41 Residents

There is a recognized need to inform residents, particularly children, of the need to
manage sea turtles in terms of local cultural values. Further, as there is some interest in having
environmental education programmes in the public schools in Belize, curricula focused on the
marine environment, sustainable fisheries, and endangered species should be actively
encouraged. WIDECAST has agreed to assist with the development of sea turtle conservation
materials (e.g., slide shows, posters, brochures). In addition to classroom efforts, adult education
is a high priority. Wildlife laws should be known to all and residents should be encouraged to
report violations. People should be encouraged not to purchase sea turtle meat or products out of
season and to consider the linkages between sea turtle survival and beach litter, indiscriminate
anchoring, beachfront lighting, etc. This information should be communicated in a variety of
media and venues, including newspapers, conservation periodicals, and public seminars. Belize
Information Service's Belize Today recently featured proposed changes in sea turtle legislation
(Matola, 1992).

Public service announcements on waste disposal, mooring, beach etiquette (no fires or
heavy machinery on the beach, pull lounge chairs off the beach at night, etc.), and the effects of
artificial beachfront light on sea turtles would be very useful. Presently, the Belize Audubon
Society and the Belize Zoo have weekly radio programmes which educate the public on
environmental concerns in Belize, at times including sea turtles. The Belize Audubon Society
also has a specific programme for sea turtles that has produced brochures, posters, slide shows
and colouring books. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve office has bulletins and pamphlets that are
provided to the public free of charge.

4.42 Fishermen

The Fisheries Extension Programme is active in informing fishermen about all aspects of
marine resource management, fishing technology, legislation, etc. Most full-time fishermen are
organized into cooperatives; part-time, independent operators are more difficult to reach. In
addition to ensuring fishermen are knowledgeable about sea turtle biology and conservation, it is
important that Extension personnel provide up-to-date information on technologies designed to
prevent or minimize the incidental catch of sea turtles in commercial or artisanal fisheries.
Leaders in the fishing community should be alerted to training opportunities, such as the U. S.
National Marine Fisheries Service-sponsored regional workshop to demonstrate the use of the
TED ("turtle excluder device", or "trawling efficiency device") in Panama in 1991 (see section
4.27). Fishermen should be involved in efforts to revise legislation to more fully protect
endangered sea turtles, and be encouraged to promote and to participate in self-policing with
regard to conservation legislation.

4.43 Tourists

There has been an attempt to educate tourists not to take archaeological artifacts from the
country by placing posters in the airport. Similar warning posters or other educational materials

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should be directed toward tourists concerning trade in sea turtle products. The Belize Audubon
Society, Programme For Belize, and the Belize Center for Environmental Studies have petitioned
the government to ban the sale of hawksbill jewelry nationwide (Appendix I). The proposal has
been favourably received. In addition to alerting visitors to the fact that it is illegal to transport
sea turtle products across international borders, it is essential to develop a campaign to educate
tourists about endangered species in general and the laws that protect them. Hoteliers provide a
continuous source of information to tourists and should be enlisted to enlighten visitors about sea
turtles. This effort would be enhanced if beachfront hotel owners actively protected sea turtles
encountered on or adjoining their property. An owner at South Water Cay has already expressed
an interest in becoming involved in such an activity.

4.44 Non-consumptive use of sea turtles to generate revenue

All beachfront and marine-based tourism should take into account the survival needs of
endangered sea turtles in order to promote the survival of these native species. Viewing sea
turtles by tourists whilst diving or fishing adds interest to these trips and makes them more
enjoyable. This contributes to the economy of Belize in the long-term, as it results in more
business for local guides through recommendations and returns. On nesting beaches, guided
tours can provide revenue without being consumptive. It is noteworthy that in the last five years,
tourism in Belize, especially so-called "eco-tourism", has grown faster than any other sector and
is now the number one industry in the country. In 1990, tourism accounted for more than B$ 100
million and attracted over 200,000 foreigners. The coastal zone accounted for the majority of
this figure. With its close proximity to the reef and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Ambergris
Cay is the most popular destination. A large number of the smaller cays are also developing
tourist operations (Young et al., 1992). Extreme care should be taken when planning
eco-tourism programmes with the often timid hawksbill turtle; the advice of WIDECAST should
be sought in this regard.

Some interest has been expressed, both by native Belizeans and by expatriate citizens of
the USA who operate tourist hotels in Belize, to maintain sea turtles in captivity for public
viewing. If allowed, such keeping of turtles must be carefully regulated to ensure that it is a part
of an overall conservation strategy. Facilities used to showcase sea turtles for tourist enjoyment
should provide information on why sea turtles are endangered. Only small juveniles (which are
more economical to feed, require less space, and are not likely to be nearing breeding age)
should be used. A limit of 2-3 turtles should be imposed on each viewing facility. The number
of facilities should also be limited and guidelines should be established for the care and
maintenance of the turtles. Presently, there is one bar on Ambergris Cay which keeps turtles
under crowded conditions and regularly elicits complaints from tourists. Inadequate facilities
should be upgraded or disallowed.

4.5 Increase Information Exchange

4.51 Marine Turtle Newsletter

The Marine Turtle Newsletter (MTN) is published in both English and Spanish and is
distributed quarterly, free of charge, to readers in more than 100 countries. The MTN provides a

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means for decision-makers to remain informed about current sea turtle research, as well as sea
turtle conservation and management activities around the world. Each issue provides a current
list of sea turtle literature available in technical journals. Government officials and biologists are
encouraged to subscribe and need only make the Editors aware of their interest. The Fisheries
Administrator, the Belize Audubon Society, and several WIDECAST-Belize members presently
receive the MTN. Others, especially local libraries, fisheries groups, and conservation organ-
izations, are encouraged to subscribe. To receive the MTN, please write to: Editors, Marine
Turtle Newsletter, Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, 1700 South Shores Road, San Diego,
California 92109 USA.

4.52 Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium (WATS)

In 1983, Mr. G. W. Miller (Fisheries Unit Lab, Belize City) represented Belize at the
First Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium (WATS I) convened in San Jose, Costa Rica. In 1987,
Mr. Vincent Gillett, Fisheries Administrator, represented Belize at WATS II in Mayaguez,
Puerto Rico. The WATS database has proven useful both in stimulating national survey efforts
and in educating governments to the grave situation faced by sea turtles in the Wider Caribbean.
Belize is encouraged to continue its participation in this fine regional programme.


The Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) consists of a
regional Recovery Team of sea turtle experts which works closely with local Country
Coordinators, who in turn enlist the support and participation of citizens in and out of
government who have an interest in sea turtle conservation. The primary project outputs are Sea
Turtle Recovery Action Plans (STRAPs) for each of 39 government regions, including Belize, in
the Wider Caribbean. Each STRAP is tailored specifically to local circumstances and provides
the following information:

1. The local status and distribution of nesting and feeding sea turtles.
2. The major causes of mortality to sea turtles.
3. The effectiveness of existing national and international laws protecting sea
4. The present and historical role of sea turtles in local culture and economy.
5. Local, national, and multi-lateral implementing measures for scientifically
sound sea turtle conservation.

The short-term objectives of WIDECAST are to provide Wider Caribbean governments
with updated information on the status of sea turtles in the region, to provide specific recom-
mendations for the management and recovery of endangered, threatened, and vulnerable sea
turtle stocks, and to assist Wider Caribbean governments in the discharge of their obligations
under the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) in the Wider
Caribbean Region (see section 4.32). The longer-term objectives are to promote a regional
capability to implement scientifically sound sea turtle conservation programmes by developing
and supporting a technical understanding of sea turtle biology and management among local
individuals and organizations. These objectives are accomplished by:

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1. Implementing WIDECAST through resident Country Coordinators.
2. Utilizing local network participants to collect information and draft, under
the supervision of regional sea turtle experts, locally appropriate sea turtle
management recommendations.
3. Providing or assisting in the development of educational materials (slides,
brochures, posters, pamphlets).
4. Sponsoring or supporting local or subregional workshops on sea turtle
biology and management.
5. Assisting governments and non-government groups with the implementa-
tion of effective management and conservation programmes for turtles.

Beyond supporting the local and national efforts of governments and non-governmental
organizations, WIDECAST works to integrate these efforts into a collective regional response to
a common problem, the disappearance of sea turtles. WIDECAST is supported by the Caribbean
Trust Fund of the UNEP Caribbean Environment Programme, as well as by a wide variety of
government and non-government agencies and groups. Non-governmental organizations, gov-
ernment agencies, and local biologists are encouraged to support the WIDECAST effort in
Belize and should be made aware of WIDECAST materials as they become available. Belize
Audubon Society (BAS) is the Lead Organization in Belize for the international WIDECAST
project. Janet Gibson, a member of the BAS Board of Directors (P. O. Box 282, Belize City) and
Greg Smith (General Delivery, San Pedro, Ambergris Cay) serve as the WIDECAST Country

4.54 IUCN/SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group

The Marine Turtle Specialist Group (Dr. Karen Bjomdal, Chair) is responsible for track-
ing the status of sea turtle populations around the world for the World Resources Union (IUCN)
Species Survival Commission (SSC). The Group is presently drafting an outline for a global
Marine Turtle Action Plan. The Group is a valuable source of information about sea turtles and
technical advice on conservation projects. For further information, contact Dr. Karen Bjomdal,
Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611.

4.55 Workshops on sea turtle research and management

Government agencies and conservation groups are encouraged to sponsor technical
workshops. Individuals who have expressed an interest in becoming involved in protecting nests
and/ or turtles (research, conservation, eco-tourism) should be asked to assist or participate.
Workshops on species identification, standardizing data collection, capture-recapture techniques,
genetic material sampling, habitat utilization studies, and nesting beach management are needed.
The WATS Manual (Pritchard et al., 1983) is a valuable technical resource and WIDECAST per-
sonnel are available upon request to lead workshops, or to train people interested in leading
workshops. Training can also be obtained outside of Belize. Earl Young (Belize Fisheries De-
partment) participated in the Caribbean Conservation Corporation's "International Short Course
in Marine Turtle Conservation" at Tortuguero, Costa Rica, in 1991. This was an excellent
experience and brought additional knowledge to sea turtle conservation initiatives in Belize.

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4.56 Exchange of information among local groups

There is general consensus that a mechanism for greater exchange of information is
needed, but this has yet to be organized. The Belize Fisheries Department and the Belize
Audubon Society are specifically involved with sea turtles on a regular basis through beach
patrols at Manatee Bar. Programme For Belize, the Belize Center For Environmental Studies,
the Belize Audubon Society, and Belize Zoo have been active in lobbying the government to
change the fisheries laws to give greater protection to sea turtles in Belize (Appendix I). The
Smithsonian Institution scientists at Carrie Bow Cay will be contacted to assess their interest in
becoming involved in sea turtle work. Interest in sea turtles, as well as in other components of
Belize's natural history, should be actively promoted in youth and conservation groups. This
WIDECAST Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan will significantly advance the exchange of
information about sea turtles and their conservation.

Not only are there a growing number of local groups interested in the conservation of
natural resources such as sea turtles, but a recently compiled literature search revealed over 800
citations describing the geology and ecology of Belize (Boles, 1988a). More than half of these
were published within the last decade. Research and conservation interest are growing steadily
and many projects are underway to investigate ecological systems, conserve endangered wildlife
and habitats, develop resource management practices, upgrade environmental health conditions,
and provide environmental education. These activities are supported by both private and
government organizations, national and international (Boles, 1988b).

4.6 Implement Belize Sea Turtle Conservation Programme

4.61 Rationale

At least a century of virtually uncontrolled commercial and subsistence harvest of sea
turtles has left local stocks depleted. Residents can cite several beaches where sea turtles once
nested but either no longer do so or arrive in noticeably smaller numbers each year. Fisheries
data indicate that the average size of turtles landed fell 60% between 1982 and 1986. Until
recently, thousands of pounds each of loggerhead, green turtle, and hawksbill were consumed
annually in Belize. We estimate that 500-800 turtles (all species combined) are still landed each
year. Historical and contemporary harvests have concentrated on large juveniles and migrating,
mating and nesting adults. Because sea turtles are long-lived, requiring two decades or more to
reach sexual maturity, and hatchling and young juvenile mortality is very high under natural
circumstances, few sea turtles survive to reproductive age. By targeting the larger size classes
(older turtles), we have unwittingly contributed in a very tangible way to the endangered status
of our sea turtles.

As stated in the Introduction, our objectives in writing this Recovery Action Plan were to
compile existing data on the status and distribution of sea turtles in Belize, assess the role of sea
turtles in the culture and economy, discuss contemporary factors threatening sea turtles and their
habitats, review existing national and international conservation legislation, and provide resource
and habitat management recommendations. Based on the information herein assembled, it is
clear that much needs to be done to promote the recovery of sea turtles. We must do more than

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publish this Action Plan, we must do our part to ensure that sea turtles, which are highly migra-
tory, are protected both within our borders and throughout the Caribbean region. The most
pressing needs in our country are for the protection of both turtles (all life stages) and habitat
(nesting beaches, coral reefs, sea grass). Studies designed to assess habitat usage, determine
stock origins, and evaluate the extent to which stocks are shared internationally are also needed.
Field surveys to identify critical habitat are essential so that informed decisions regarding pro-
tected areas can be made.

Time is short for the turtles of Belize. Therefore, we have designed our Sea Turtle Con-
servation Programme to give priority to training personnel, encouraging public participation in
the programme, collecting vital data, and drafting holistic and long-term habitat management
plans. We have detailed several accomplishments which we hope to realize in the next 3 years
and we have included a budget for this work, but the true test of our conservation efforts will be
to maintain the field work and the vigilance for many years so that hatchlings emerging from the
sands of Belize in 1993 will return to healthy nesting habitat well into the twenty-first century.

4.62 Goals and objectives

The overarching goal of the Belize Sea Turtle Conservation Programme is to prevent
further decline of sea turtle nesting and foraging populations under national jurisdiction, and
ultimately to increase the numbers of gravid females arriving to nest each year. In furtherance of
this goal, the following objectives will be pursued:

1. lobby for a moratorium on the catch of sea turtles and their eggs, passage
of comprehensive coastal zone management legislation, and improved law
enforcement capability,

2. determine nest density and nest success at important rookery sites,

3. determine the distribution and abundance of turtles at sea,

4. identify critical habitat and develop holistic management plans for same,

5. improve hatch success,

6. increase understanding of residency patterns and movements of sea turtles,

7. quantify legal and illegal exploitation of sea turtles, and

8. promote public awareness of endangered sea turtles and community sup-
port of conservation measures.

4.63 Activities

To fulfill programme objectives, the following activities will be undertaken:

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

1. administrative and field personnel will be hired by Belize Audubon
Society (BAS) to oversee a national sea turtle conservation programme,

2. BAS will collaborate with other national NGOs to encourage substantive
improvements in fisheries legislation viz sea turtles and enforcement of
same (e.g., letter writing, media campaigning, meetings with Fisheries
officials, building a citizen network to report violations),

3. daily ground surveys will be undertaken of three important nesting areas
(Ambergris Cay, Manatee Bar, selected cays in the Sapodilla group); four
beach patrollers will be hired and full advantage taken of volunteer
assistance; training will be provided by BAS and Fisheries personnel;
additional areas (e.g., Placentia, the atolls) will be included in the survey
as resources permit,

4. tagging will be initiated at selected beaches (at least Ambergris Cay and
Manatee Bar) for at least two consecutive years to determine the number
of females nesting, clutch frequency, site fidelity and nest success; training
will be provided by BAS and Fisheries personnel; additional target areas
will be included as resources permit,

5. preliminary (short-term) surveys will be conducted of areas under-repre-
sented in surveys to date, such as Placentia and many of the southern cays,
during peak nesting season,

6. data sheets will be developed and distributed to fishermen, divers and
others willing and able to contribute sightings data to the programme; data
will be collected for at least three consecutive years so that preliminary
determinations of habitat important to foraging and resting sea turtles can
be made; sightings data will be encouraged from scientists participating in
habitat monitoring efforts,

7. holistic management plans will be developed for at least three important
nesting and three important feeding areas, based on the scientific
recommendations presented in this Recovery Action Plan; critical habitat
will be proposed for protected status,

8. sea turtle project personnel will attend at least one international scientific
meeting and/or training workshop each year and at least one technical
workshop will be convened each year for the purpose of training project
staff and volunteers to identify sea turtle species (including crawls, eggs,
and hatchlings), survey habitat, and collect data,

9. hatch success will be improved at three important nesting areas during at
least three consecutive years; methods may include predator exclusion
(e.g., fencing nests), predator removal (e.g., trapping and relocation),

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

patrolling nesting beaches to discourage predators and poachers, and
moving eggs from areas of high risk (erosion, predators) to areas of lower
risk (e.g., high ground, hatcheries),

10. tagging and biotelemetry will be used to increase our understanding of
residency patterns and movements of sea turtles,

11. market and industry surveys will be undertaken to determine the legal and
illegal exploitation of sea turtles,

12. Town Meetings will be hosted in important fishing communities to discuss
sea turtle status and conservation in Belize, explore alternatives for turtle
fishermen (and artisans as necessary), and propose the purchase of turtle
nets by the Fisheries Department, and

13. a full-colour sea turtle conservation brochure and poster will be produced
and distributed nationally, a slide show will be developed for use in the
schools, and monthly articles will be written for local newspapers and
conservation periodicals.

4.64 Results and outputs

The following important outputs, including material products, capacity building, and
community participation in conservation activities, are expected to result from initiation of a
national sea turtle conservation programme:

1. a Project Coordinator and field staff will be hired and trained by BAS,

2. an annual report (Status of Sea Turtles in Belize) will be produced,
including annual levels of nesting and hatch success, contemporary threats
to sea turtles and their habitats, and updated research and surveys results,

3. a Manual will be developed describing how to identify sea turtles, conduct
habitat surveys, protect nesting areas, complete sightings forms, etc.,

4. comprehensive legislation will be enacted for the protection of sea turtles
and the habitats upon which they depend,

5. important nesting and feeding areas will be identified and management
plans produced; critical habitat will be proposed for public or private
sanctuary status,

6. a network of volunteers will be identified to collect data on nesting,
hatching, nest fate, and observations of turtles at sea,

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Belize Sea Turtles ...

7. the capacity of local conservationists, NGOs, fishermen, and policy-
makers to participate in conservation decisions will be enhanced, and

8. public understanding of and participation in sea turtle and habitat
conservation will increase.

4.65 Budget



Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Project Coordinator (full-time)
Environmental Educator (half-time)
Field Biologist (half-time)
Beach Patrollers (part-time) 1/
Taggers (part-time) 2/


US$ 8000



24-ft fiberglas skiff with
two 40hp outboard motors
1 survey/patrol vehicle
office furnishings
slide projector
camera and accessories
tags and applicators
radio equipment
camping gear


US$ 10000



Operating costs

vehicle fuel, maintenance
boat fuel, maintenance
educational materials
travel and subsistence
film and developing
office supplies
field supplies

US$ 5000











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CEP Technical Report No. 18

Budget, continued

Category Year 1 Year 2 Year 3

purchasing turtle-nets from fishermen
administrative overhead 3/



staff attendance at regional and intl.
meetings; technical training US$
seminars and workshops for fishermen,
tour guides, hoteliers, divers, etc.








US$ 91405







1/ 4 beach patrollers (2 at Ambergris Cay, 2 at Manatee Bar) @ US$ 1800/6 mo
2/ 4 taggers (2 at Ambergris Cay, 2 at Manatee Bar) @ US$ 3000/3 mo
3/ Belize Audubon Society administrative overhead @ 15% of total

Page 56







Belize Sea Turtles ...


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TABLE 1. Selected reproductive data from a sample of 17 loggerhead sea turtle nests laid on
Ambergris Cay, Belize, in 1990. The nesting beach was surveyed between 1 April and 31
August 1990 (data from Smith, 1990a). In 1988, 68 crawls believed to be nests were reported on
the cay (Smith and Azueta, 1989); in 1989, 59 nests were observed, 40 of them loggerheads
(Smith, 1989); in 1990, 106 crawls were observed, 95 of them loggerheads and 33 confirmed
nests (Smith, 1990a).

Date Clutch Days to Escaped Percent
Laid Size Emergence Unaided Emerged

?? 137 ?? 80 60%

19 May 118 50 86 73%

31 May 89 55 67 78%

05 June 123 52 65 53%

10 June 69 54? 41 60%

15 June 111 50 80 72%

21 June 99 53 89 90%

22 June 77 53 68 88%

22 June 101 53 94 93%

23 June 93 52 9 9%

27 June 135 56 110 81%

03 July 103 49 93 90%

03 July 77 53 56 73%

05 July 119 53 71 60%

06 July 93 59 39 42%

09 July 113 57 103 91%

14 July 71 53 57 90%

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CEP Technical Report No. 18

TABLE 2. Reported nesting areas for sea turtles -- loggerhead (L), green (G), hawksbill (H) --
in Belize. Data from Miller (1984) and Gillett (1987) were presented to the Western Atlantic
Turtle Symposium and consist of estimated numbers of nests per year. Carr et al. (1982) and
Moll (1985) recorded nests observed during brief visits to the country. The data, especially the
estimated number of nests/year, are considered preliminary. There is also the caveat that consid-
erable confusion exists with regard to differentiating between loggerhead and green turtle crawls
on the beach. With the exception of Ambergris Cay (see Table 1), no season-long surveys of
these nesting beaches have been undertaken. Locations are divided into three categories -- cays,
atolls, and mainland -- and are arranged in approximately geographical order, north to south (see
Figures 2a,b).

Location Species Nests Source/Comments


Reef Point

Ambergris Cay

95 crawls
min.33 nests

3 crawl, 2 July 1982 aerial survey for
WATS I; Miller, 1984

Miller, 1984
Gillett, 1987
Smith, 1989; Apr-Sept 1989 survey
Smith, 1990b; Apr-Aug 1990 survey
Gillett, 1987
Smith, 1989; Apr-Sept 1989 survey
Miller, 1984
Gillett, 1987
Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
Smith, 1989; Apr-Sept 1989 survey
Smith, 1990b; Apr-Aug 1990 survey

Comments: "traditional nesting site"
(Perkins,1983); now developed for
tourism; logger-head most common nester

Cay Caulker

Cay Chapel

L orG

L or G
L or G

"June-July"; Miller, 1984




Sergeant Cays

One turtle seen on the beach in July or
August, 1981; Perkins, 1983
"June, July, August"; Miller, 1984
One turtle seen on the beach in 1986 (J.
Beveridge, pers. comm.)

"traditional nesting site, may still be used";
Perkins, 1983; Smith, 1989

Page 66

Belize Sea Turtles ...

Table 2, continued.

Location Species Nests Source/Comments

Tobacco Cay

Goffs Cay

H orL

Twin Cays

South Water Cay

Carrie Bow





4 crawls



"reputed turtle nesting"; Perkins, 1983
Smith, 1989; 3-24 Sept 1989 survey

"June, July, August"; Miller, 1984
"traditional nesting site, may still be used";
Perkins, 1983; Smith, 1989

poached (egg shells found); Smith, 1990b

beach quality poor, interviewee reported
nesting; Smith, 1990b

no details provided; Perkins, 1983
Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
Smith, 1989; 3-24 Sept 1989 survey
2 L nests confirmed in June; Smith, 1990b
number of nests unknown; Smith, 1989;
3-24 Sept 1989 survey
1 H nest confirmed late June; Smith, 1990b

Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
habitat appears marginal; past nesting
reported by Smithsonian research staff;
Smith, 1989

Long Coco Cay

Rendezvous Cay
(Gladden area)

Silk Cays
(=Queen Cays)

25 crawls many unsuccessful nests due to hard sand
and (Gladden area) roots, 1 nest found
hatched; Smith 1989

H orL


South Silk Cay


1-3 nests

1 crawl


Laughing Bird Cay

"one crawl, very old"; Smith, 1990b

no details provided; Perkins, 1983
no details provided; Miller, 1984
1-3 nests reported, but none observed;
Smith, 1989; 3-24 Sept 1989 survey
"possible nest on southern cay"; Smith,

Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey

poaching reported; Smith, 1989

Page 67

CEP Technical Report No. 18

Table 2, continued.


Round Cay


Pompion Cay
(=Pumpkin Cay)


Ranguana Cay





15 bodypits


North Spot

Red Rock Sandbore

Tom Owens Cay

Middle Snake Cay

12 body pits


3 nests reported, but none observed; Smith,
1989; 3-24 Sept 1989 survey
"9 body pits, 5 nests reported by local fisher-
man who also reported H seen nesting
[during the] day"; Smith, 1990b

Miller, 1984
Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
Smith, 1989; 3-24 Sept 1989 survey
"fewest H nests [in 1990] on Pompion in 9
years"; Smith, 1990b
Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
"nesting occurs every year"; Perkins, 1983
Comments: turtles/eggs taken; Perkins,

Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
Miller, 1984
Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
Smith, 1989; 3-24 Sept 1989 survey
two confirmed nests, one hatched/one
poached; Smith, 1990b
Gillett, 1987
"moderate numbers" reported during July
1978 visit; Carr et al., 1982 Comments:
turtles/eggs taken (Perkins, 1983)

no details provided; Smith, 1989 Comments:
"unusable, uninhabited"; Smith, 1990b

"2 probable H nests found in July"; digging,
camping, poaching; Smith, 1990b

no details provided; Smith, 1989
"3 H nests reported in July, all poached";
Smith, 1990b

"probable nests", 1 maybe poached; Smith,

Page 68

Belize Sea Turtles ...

Table 2, continued.

Location Species Nests Source/Comments

West Snake Cay
(=Lagoon Cay)

Northeast Cay
(Sapodilla Group)

Frank's Cay
(Sapodilla Group)

Nicolas Cay
(Sapodilla Group)

Hunting Cay
(Sapodilla Group)



very few
34 crawls






7 crawls

Ragged Cay
(Sapodilla Group)

"6 H crawls, 2 of which appear poached";
17 Sept 1990 visit; Smith, 1990b

Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
15 false nests, 2 likely nests; Smith, 1989;
3-24 Sept 1989 survey
no crawls in July, 2 crawls in Sept (1
probable H nest); Smith, 1990b

no details provided; Perkins, 1983
"June, July, August"; Miller, 1984
Smith, 1989; 3-24 Sept 1989 survey
probable nest laid 12 Sept 1990; Smith,

"moderate numbers"; Carr et al. 1982; July '78
no details provided; Perkins, 1983
"June, July, August"; Miller, 1984
Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
Gillett, 1987
most nests disturbed; Smith, 1989;
3-24 Sept 1989 survey
1 nest confirmed late June, 1 nest poached
mid-July, 3 crawls August; Smith, 1990b
Gillett, 1987
Comments: nesting occurs each year, eggs
and adults are taken

"June, July, August"; Miller, 1984
Perkins, 1983
Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
Smith, 1989; 3-24 Sept 1989 survey; nests
reported by lighthouse keeper, all poached
1 confirmed/i probable nest; Smith, 1990b
Gillett, 1987

9 body pits, only 1 nest (appeared poached);
Smith, 1990b

Page 69

CEP Technical Report No. 18

Table 2, continued.

Location Species Nests Source/Comments

Lime Cay
(Sapodilla Group)






Miller, 1984
Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
10 nests reported by lighthouse keeper in
1989; Smith, 1989
"one to three turtles nest at a time; likely that
turtles and eggs are taken"; Perkins, 1983
Smith, 1990b


Turneffe Islands:

Three Corner Cay

Grassy Cay

Cockroach Cay

Cockroach Bogue


Calabash Cay


1 crawl, 2 July 1982 aerial survey for
WATS I; Miller, 1984

1 crawl, 2 July 1982 aerial survey for
WATS I; Miller, 1984

marginal habitat, but nesting reported by
fishermen; Smith, 1989

good habitat, nesting reported by fishermen;
Smith, 1989

Comments: "traditional nesting site,
doubtful if any nest there now"; Perkins,

inhabited cay, good nesting habitat, nesting
reported by fishermen; Smith, 1989
3 H crawls, 3 possible nests; Smith, 1990b

Lighthouse Reef.

Sandbore Cay

15-18 crawls

1 crawl, 2 July 1982 aerial survey for
WATS I; Miller, 1984
reported by lighthouse keeper (6 L crawls
observed); Smith, 1990b

Page 70

Belize Sea Turtles ...

Table 2, continued.

Location Species Nests Source/Comments

Half Moon Cay

Northern Cay

Long Cay






"June, July"; Miller, 1984

10 nests reported by lighthouse keeper in
1989; Smith, 1989
"possible nests"; Smith, 1990b
Carr et al., 1982; July 1978 visit
Smith, 1990b

Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey

Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
Miller, 1984
Smith, 1989
Comments: foraging reported in surrounding

Glover's Reef.

Glover's Reef

Northeast Cay

Long Cay

Middle Cay

Southwest Cay








Miller, 1984

1 crawl, 2 July 1982 aerial survey for
WATS I; Miller, 1984
"definite nesting area"; Smith, 1989
"1 probable nest, 4 possible nests", 1990
nesting did not start until after 20 Sept;
Smith, 1990b

no details provided; Smith, 1989
2 G crawls (1 probable nest); L hatchling
found dead in nest; Smith, 1990b

no details provided; Smith, 1989
2 H? crawls (1 possible nest); Smith, 1990b

Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey
"probable nest"; Smith, 1990b

Page 71

CEP Technical Report No. 18

Table 2, continued.




Mullins River to
Manatee River

just north of
South Stann Creek


Jonathan Point
(mainland Placencia)

Rum Point
(mainland Placencia)

(lower peninsula)

Palmero Point

Punta Negra



15 crawls

1-2/yr ea



"160 H nests destroyed by raccoons, 9
probable H nests; many nests appeared old,
possible laid in 1989; Smith, 1990b

interviewee reported 5 nests eroded away in
1990; Smith, 1990b [N.B. reported as
green, but believe they were hawksbill]

Miller, 1984
Gillett, 1987
Smith, 1989; 3-24 Sept 1989 survey
Gillett, 1987
Comments: "Traditional nesting area, turtles
no longer nest in the Rum Point/Maya
Beach areas" (Perkins, 1983); nesting on the
peninsula is extremely rare now; attempted
poaching common

laid early August, destroyed by raccoons;
Smith, 1990b

"probable nest", laid early May; Smith,

Moll, 1985; Jun-Jul 1983 survey

1 crawl, 2 July 1982 aerial survey for
WATS I; Miller, 1984

Gillett, 1987
definite nesting; 3 nests reported in village
near church; 1 L seen on beach; total
number of nests unknown; Smith, 1989
"3 H crawls, all appeared disturbed in July,
no new crawls in Sept."; Smith, 1990b

Page 72



Belize Sea Turtles ...

Table 2, continued.

Location Species Nests Source/Comments

Punta Ycacos

12 crawls Smith, 1990b; 2 nests hatched (Sept.), 3
(incl. 8 nests) poached, 1 taken by raccoons

TABLE 3. Existing and proposed Reserves in Belize that include known or potentially impor-
tant sea turtle habitat.

Category Area

Marine and coastal protected areas

Proposed protected areas

Coastal Special Development Areas

Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Half Moon Cay Natural Monument
Laughing Bird Cay National Park
Paynes Creek Wildlife Sanctuary
Sarstoon Temash Wildlife Sanctuary

Sapodilla Cays
Cay Caulker
Glover's Reef Marine Reserve
Bacalar Chico
Mexico Rocks
North Turneffe Islands
Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef
South Water Cay area
Port Honduras area

Manatee SDA
Monkey River SDA
Placencia SDA (proposed)

Page 73

CEP Technical Report No. 18

TABLE 4. Landing sites for sea turtles in 1982, with estimated number and weight (kg) landed,
as reported to the 1983 Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium. All turtles were reported captured
by nets, with the exception that turtles landed for the Belize City Market were "infrequently
taken incidentally when diving". L = loggerhead; G = green turtle; H = hawksbill. The last
column estimates average weight (kg) per turtle calculated from data provided by Miller (1984).

Port/Site Species Months Number / Wt Avg kg

Belize City Market

Newtown Barraks
Corozal Town
Punta Gorda
San Pedro
Cay Caulker


Feb-May *

200 / 40,460

50 / 8,800
75 / 15,675
90/ 15,840
180 / 14,300
70 / 7,700
90/ 14,300
1005 / 163,825

TABLE 5. Landing sites for sea turtles in 1986, with estimated number and weight (kg) landed,
as reported to the 1987 Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium. All turtles were reported captured
by nets, with the exception that turtles landed for the Belize City Market were "infrequently
taken incidentally when diving". L = loggerhead; G = green turtle; H = hawksbill. The last
column estimates average weight (kg) per turtle calculated from data provided by Gillett (1987).

Port/Site Species Months Number / Wt Avg kg

Belize City Market

Newtown Barraks
Corozal Town
Punta Gorda
San Pedro
Cay Caulker


Feb-May *

280/ 11,454

28 / 1,654
[ not given ]
250/ 18,181
200/ 15,888
15 / 1,073

* Occasionally turtles are landed in December or January; turtle season is closed from 1 June to 31 August.
** "There is a fairly heavy trade in juveniles to satisfy tourist demand" (Gillett, 1987).

Page 74






Belize Sea Turtles ...

I .. ...i



< ** *.,

Puerto CabezJa

rCaribbean Sea
` Car bean Sea

San Juan del

Puerto Quepos

Figure 1. Location of Belize, once British Honduras, on the Caribbean coast of Central America
(source: Young et al., 1992).

Page 75

CEP Technical Report No. 18




I,~ '

i ;
I I, '.,

! I:
l, *'

i II .B: i ,1 f

I .. # . .......

i i I I' L A
r' an c i il s -, -

SI ,. AU...

,i. l' : A' N . ---
I' ..t. : .. :. TURNEFFE ISLANDS

-o.. .A-*'S .^ % S AN OBOR CAY

I .. . r, ... : .,, LIGHTHOUSE
I !i"r. .. K 6 REEF'

,P...J nC' s*oo** cL :
,, l "' ,
ia .LONG CAv
I 1* r

II^l T ; eek "" *C,. '., :: ,

I'*II1 .'.. e .

";I "
I' ---- ~ ------ ., F A

F -'

,I ,, J m I. ,
- ,. H I . .

732 12400)
366 1200o
3 too l
0 (0)

... REEF
- cAY

-I' -

Figure 2a. Location of the Belize barrier reef and offshore cays (source: Stoddart et al., 1982).

Page 76


.7. ..'

Belize Sea Turtles ...









il-u CAY

10 CAY








Figure 2b. Detail of the reefs and cays of the central barrier reef lagoon (source: Stoddart et al.,


Page 77





f Q'\



CAY C."p' CA


CEP Technical Report No. 18


Gren turtle (Chelonia mydas)
olive brown shell, often streaked; underside pale
yellow; plates on the shell do not overlap one
another; 1 pair of large scales between the eyes;
adults 95-125 cm shell length; to 230 kg; rounded,
slightly serrated jaw; feeds on sea grasses

Hawksbill turtle (Eremochelys imbricata)
oval shell mottled brown, orange, yellow; plates
on the shell overlap one another and are pointed
posteriorly; 2 pair of scales between the eyes;
adults 70-95 cm shell length; to 85 kg; pointed
face and jaw; feeds in coral reefs

Loggerhead turtle (Carena carena) Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
color is red-brown to brown; head wide; plates lacks bony shell; leathery 'shell* is strongly
on the shell do not overlap one another; oval shell tapered and is raised into 7 prominent ridges;
is often encrusted with barnacles; adults 90-120 black with white or pale spots; adults 140-175
cm shell length; to 200 kg; feeds on mollusks and cm 'shell length'; 250-500 kg; summer visitor;
other invertebrates; very rare deep water, jellyfish eater; rare

Figure 3. An identification guide to sea turtles in Belize. With rare exceptions, leatherbacks are
observed only seaward of the barrier reef.

Page 78

Belize Sea Turtles ...



29 Regent Street
Post Office Box 1001
Belize City, BELIZE

TELEPHONE (02)-77369

From: Belize Audubon Society, Programme for Belize, Belize Centre for Environmental Studies

To: Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Minister of Natural Resources, Minister of Tourism and
Environment, Minister of Trade and Commerce

The NGO's listed above are seriously concerned about the decline in Belize's population of hawksbill sea
turtles. In 1925, "The Handbook of British Honduras", described the number of sea turtles around
Belize's cays as "inexhaustible". Today, worldwide depletion of hawksbills has led to their inclusion in
Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which was enacted
to prevent the extinction of species. Belize and more than 100 other countries have agreed to protect the
hawksbill by prohibiting exports of hawksbill shell or any products made from them.

During an 1989 survey of sea turtle nesting sites in Belize, it was learned from fishermen that hawksbill
shells are being bought in Belize, stockpiled and then illegally exported to Japan. It was also learned that
Belize is being used as a transshipment port for hawksbill shell coming from our region.

Another cause for fewer hawksbill reported to the 1989 survey team by older experienced fishermen was
the catching of large numbers of small hawksbill by lobster divers.

As tourism continues to increase, so do the numbers of shops selling hawksbill jewelry to tourists. It is
prohibited to export this jewelry out of Belize by the tourists, but this is overlooked by the shop that sells
it knowing that tourists intend to take it out of the country.

For all these reasons, we are requesting that the Government of Belize prohibit the commercial sale of
hawksbill and their shell, the stockpiling of hawksbill shell, and the transshipment of hawksbill shell
through Belize. As the major buyer of the shell is Japan, we request that the Government of Belize,
through diplomatic channels, work along with Japanese officials to curtail this illegal trade.

All three species of turtles occurring in Belize are threatened. Recent studies show that mating starts in
March, with nesting commencing in May and continuing through to November.

The current turtle management regulations are in need of revision in view of more up-to-date manage-
ment principles for turtle populations. The following recommendations are suggested for amendments to
the existing regulations:

Page 79

CEP Technical Report No. 18

(1) As marine turtles are long-lived species, gaining maturity at more than 30 years, a maximum size
limit of 25 inch shell length should be introduced.

(2) Complete protection should be given to the hawksbill, as this species is not taken for meat, only
the shell.

(3) The turtle closed season should be extended to include the months of May through October,

(4) No new licenses for turtle fishing should be granted, thus ensuring the gradual phasing out of the

(5) Shrimp trawlers operating in Belizean waters should be required to install Turtle Exclusion
Devices (TEDS) to prevent the incidental capture and drowning of sea turtles.

Janet Gibson Joy Grant
President Executive Director
Belize Audubon Society Programme for Belize

Lou Nicolait
Belize Centre for Environmental Studies

Page 80

Belize Sea Turtles ...


To: Honorable Minister Espat, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Belize
Honorable Minister Godfrey, Minister of Tourism and Environment, Belize

From: Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Recovery Team (WIDECAST)

Subject: Fisheries Regulations and Sea Turtle Conservation in Belize


At the request of Greg Smith, WIDECAST Country Coordinator in Belize, the Wider Caribbean Sea
Turtle Recovery Team (WIDECAST Team) has drafted the attached letter in support of increased
protection for sea turtles in Belize. The WIDECAST Project is comprised of an international team of sea
turtle experts, as well as Country Coordinators and a network of participants in more than 20 Wider
Caribbean countries. WIDECAST is supported by the governments of the region via the UNEP Carib-
bean Environment Programme (based in Kingston, Jamaica) and our mandate is to assist Wider Caribbean
nations in their efforts to conserve remaining sea turtle stocks. This is accomplished largely by the pro-
duction of nation-specific Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plans, orchestrated in each case by an in-country
coordinator with the support of the WIDECAST regional recovery team and a network of experts.

WIDECAST stresses two points when it comes to sea turtle management: (i) sea turtles can only be
effectively conserved in a regional context and (ii) until such time that sea turtles can be fully protected
by law, it is imperative that adults and large juveniles be exempt from harvest. WIDECAST encourages
all nations to implement a moratorium on the harvest of sea turtles and their eggs. Nonetheless we
recognize that, for any number of socio-economic reasons, this will not happen overnight. In the interim,
we urge governments to recognize that there are steps which can be taken in order to ease the strain on
remaining populations. In the case of Belize, it is most essential that maximum, as opposed to minimum,
size limits be established (see attached letter for background). Belize is an important country for sea
turtles in the Wider Caribbean, and shares its turtle stocks with several adjacent countries which are also
struggling to conserve these populations.

We respectfully encourage the Government of Belize to consider implementing legislation as described in
(1) or (2) below. Nonetheless, even number (3) represents an improvement over current laws allowing
continued harvest of hawksbills and adult turtles. We refer you to the attached letter for details, and
appreciate your kind attention.

(1) Full protection for all species and their eggs at all times

(2) Full protection to hawksbill; closed season (all species) 1 April-30 November, inclusive;
open season limited to green and loggerhead turtles LESS THAN 60 cm (24 in) curved
shell length; full protection to eggs

(3) Full protection to hawksbill; green and loggerhead turtles LESS THAN 60 cm (24 in)
catchable 1 April-30 November, inclusive; green and loggerhead turtles all size classes
catchable 1 December-31 March; full protection to eggs

Page 81

CEP Technical Report No. 18


To: Honorable Minister Espat, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Belize
Honorable Minister Godfrey, Minister of Tourism and Environment, Belize

From: Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Recovery Team (WIDECAST)

Subject: Fisheries Regulations and Sea Turtle Conservation in Belize

Date: 16 April 1991

It is clear, based on several studies, including data recently collected by Greg Smith, Co-Country
Coordinator (with Janet Gibson, Belize Audubon Society) for WIDECAST in Belize, that Belize is a very
important country for sea turtles in the Wider Caribbean region. Green turtles and Loggerheads, as well
as the critically endangered and regionally depleted Hawksbill turtle, are represented among Belize's
fauna. Nonetheless, man-induced threats to the continued survival of sea turtles in Belize are many.
These include the harvest of adults and large juveniles, increasing development in important nesting
areas, and the degradation of coral reefs and seagrass beds.

The WIDECAST Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan for Belize, presently in draft form, discusses these
threats, as well as the past and present distribution and abundance of sea turtles in Belize, their economic
role, and options for the recovery of their populations. WIDECAST, an acronym for the Wider Caribbean
Sea Turtle Recovery Team and Conservation Network, is a regional project sponsored by the UNEP
Caribbean Environment Programme. The 10-member Team is comprised of sea turtle experts from
throughout the region; in addition, there are WIDECAST Country Coordinators in more than two dozen
Caribbean nations and government regions.

The WIDECAST Team is proud that Belize is an active participant in the WIDECAST project. The
WIDECAST Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan for Belize is well developed, and will surely provide a
model for other countries striving to balance the protection of sea turtles with the needs and desires of
residents and visitors. In an increasing number of cases, Caribbean countries are opting to achieve this
balance by implementing an indefinite moratorium on the take of sea turtles, fully protecting one or
several species until such time that their numbers show signs of recovery. Typically this decision is based
on the reality that few if any individuals rely on sea turtle products to make a living (in Belize there are
perhaps 20-30 turtle fishermen), the notion that sea turtles are valuable to a nation as part of the natural
and cultural heritage of its people, and the desire to cooperate with adjacent countries that have already
established local moratoria.

In view of the precarious status of sea turtle species throughout much of the Caribbean, and recognizing
the support that sea turtle conservation has within the Government of Belize, the WIDECAST Team
encourages the Government to consider conferring a greater degree of protection to sea turtles under its
jurisdiction. We fully support the call by conservation groups within Belize for a ban on the harvest of
Hawksbill turtles; indeed we support the full protection of all sea turtle species. If a moratorium on the
take of Green and Loggerhead turtles is impossible at the present time, however, we urge Belize to
prohibit at the very least the taking of adult and near adult subadultlt") animals.

Page 82

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