RESIDENTS of Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth, Bluefields in Westmoreland as well as Hope Bay and Winnifred Beach in Portland all came together recently to learn about the value of sea turtles and how to monitor the 2011 nesting season.
They were brought together under a project funded by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ), the Canadian International Development Agency and the Treasure Beach Turtle Group and which was designed to change public perceptions with of sea turtles and reduce poaching.
The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) delivered awareness workshops in the communities and also trained a small group to monitor eight turtle nesting beaches around the island.
"Over 140 people were trained on sea turtle biology and monitoring techniques, including teachers, members of the ISCF, community members, and employees of various government entities," JET said in a release to Career & Education.
"During the monitoring exercise, which has so far returned data for the six-month period May to October 2011, 95 hawksbill nests were recorded with over 12,500 turtle eggs counted in the hatched nests producing an estimated 7,500 hatchlings," the environmental non-governmental organisation noted.
Participants had high praise for the project.
"It was a very good experience for me, mainly because I did not know much about the turtles," said Barbara Blythe, a Bluefields resident and member of the Bluefields Bay Fishermen's Friendly Society.
"Especially when I see the hatchlings coming up, it makes me feel good that I am doing something to protect them," she added.
Meanwhile, each entity with which JET partnered has had their individual success stories -- from JET the Portland Environment Protection Association (PEPA) in Portland to the Bluefields Bay Fishermen's Friendly Society in Westmoreland and the Treasure Beach Turtle Group in St Elizabeth.
In Treasure Beach, for example, community members helped to stop the poaching of turtles on one of their beaches while in Portland a man who used to poach turtles now refuses to take turtles and even prevented poachers from harvesting a nest this year.
"The project has significantly raised the awareness of the need to preserve turtles in Portland," said Machel Donegan, PEPA's executive director. "We have seen an increase in the reports of poaching as a result of the activities implemented during the project."
JET has also collected data from other sites being monitored. For example, on one beach in St Mary, more than 126 nests were recorded during 2011, with an estimated 10,800 hatchlings.
"This may sound like a lot of baby turtles, but you have to remember only one in 1,000 survive to adulthood," said Christine O'Sullivan, consultant on the sea turtle project, which was conducted with the approval of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) who welcomed the data as helpful in guiding good development decisions.
JET is currently in the process of seeking additional funding to extend the project to other communities across the island, as well as to identify new partners.
The sea turtle nesting season runs from May to December each year. Sea turtles are protected under the Natural Resources and Conservation Authority's Wildlife Protection Act.
It is illegal to hunt, have in your possession, take or try to take sea turtles, any of their parts or their eggs. The penalty is a maximum fine of $100,000 or up to 12 months imprisonment and any weapons or vehicles used can be confiscated.
"JET encourages everyone to contact the National Environment and Planning Agency's hotline at 1-888-991-5005 to report any breaches related to sea turtles," the release said.