The Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Antigua and Barbuda’s national sea creature, has been identified by worldwide marine experts as an “indicator” species to show the effects of climate change.
Given the history of killing turtles for food or fun on the island, the Environmental Awareness Group is asking the public to take note of the importance of the animal to the environment.
The significance of preserving the Hawksbill turtle population is being highlighted this week during a World Wildlife Fund workshop in Miami held under the title, “Developing an Approach for Adaptation to Climate Change in the Insular Caribbean - the Hawksbill Turtle as an Indicator Species”.
With the support of the MacArthur Foundation, a group of the world’s best biologists on marine turtles and climate change are gathered to measure the threats and biological effects of climate change on this species. The three-day workshop started yesterday and ends tomorrow.
The health of beaches as well as mangrove, sea grass beds, coral reefs and deep ocean ecosystems can be gauged by the presence of sea turtles that use these areas for nesting, foraging, rookeries and migrations.
Hawksbill turtles were identified because they live in habitats ranging from beaches to the open ocean throughout their lives.
“Increased understanding of how climate change may affect the beaches, the reef and the open ocean will not only benefit endangered sea turtle populations, but also the millions of people who live along the coastlines of the world. By designing strategies to avoid the negative impacts of climate change, many other species in these environments will also benefit,” a press release said.
Education and Protected Area Coordinator of the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) Mykl Clovis agreed that the turtles are important enough for local conservation because they are indicators of the health of the seas and beaches.
She said, “The seas and oceans are so vast it is hard to monitor the health of all the oceans and creatures that live in it. Turtles are relatively easy to find, so keeping up with the population and health of turtles such as Hawksbills, gives us a lot of information on how healthy our marine areas are.”
She added that in the EAG Sea Turtle Project, launched this year, they found that one of the biggest factors affecting turtles is the loss of nesting beaches, due to development and erosion.
“This loss of beachfront is a nationwide issue that affects us all, and has even been a major issue in recent media,” she said.
Clovis said that although Hawksbill turtles are icons, imprinted on passports and EC dollar bills, they help predict the effect of climate change on the beaches, reefs, coast, fisheries, and ultimately the economy.
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