Incidental capture, depredation of the habitat and illegal commercialization are the main causes of the reduction of turtle populations. The most threatened species are the leatherback turtle and the hawksbill turtle.
Turtles are millenary species that have inhabited the planet for more than one hundred million years, according to scientific research. In the world, there are seven species that live in the seas, and of these, five are found on the coasts of Peru, says the National Forestry and Wildlife Service (Serfor).
Some nest on the beaches, such as the leatherback or leatherback turtle ( Dermochelys coriácea ) and others come to feed on the abundant Peruvian sea, such as the loggerhead turtle ( Caretta caretta ), which travels from the distant sea of Australia.
The other species that cross the Peruvian coasts are the green turtle ( Chelonia mydas ), the parrot-billed turtle ( Lepidochelys olivacea ) and the hawksbill turtle ( Eretmochelys imbricata ).
Despite the fact that since 1995, Peru has a norm that protects them and that prohibits their capture and commercialization, the survival in the Peruvian sea of these five species is at risk. All are listed with a degree of vulnerability by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The Threats That Sea Turtles Must Face
“Bycatch is the main threat, related to fishing, that affects the survival of these species,” says Shaleyla Kelez, president of the Ecoceanic organization. The expert on sea turtles explains that although the catch is not intentional, fishermen often retain them for their consumption while they are at sea.
In other cases, he added, they suffer irreversible damage when they get trapped by the head or fins, and although they release them, the turtles end up dying in the sea as a consequence of an inadequate handling after capture.
In this regard, says Kelez, different methods are being tested to address this problem. According to the portal Tortugas marinas in Peru, created by different public and private institutions to protect this species, they are currently testing modifications of fishing gear to reduce the capture of these species.
But they are not the only causes that threaten the population of turtles. There are also collisions of these species with boats and jet skis in the sea or run-ins on the beaches.
“We are not taking care of the beaches as we should. Too much urban development, movement in the dunes and excessive lighting on the beaches are affecting the sea turtles, mainly those that nest on the Peruvian coasts, “says Kelez.
An illuminated beach becomes a difficult place for nesting – says Kelez – because when the young hatch from the eggs they are oriented by the clarity of the marine horizon to find their way to the ocean. “If you have light, the turtles do not reach the sea, they get lost on the beach and die at the hands of their predators or dehydrated by the sun.”
“Their commercial capture and consumption, although illegal, has not yet been completely eradicated in Peru, according to studies of the Institute of the Sea of Peru (Imarpe) conducted in the district of San Andrés, between 2009 and 2015, 953 shells were found of marine turtles in landfills and wastelands, most of which are the result of directed catches for human consumption, and there is also a marketing and sales chain to different points in Ica and Lima, “says the Tortugas marinas portal in Peru.
Evelyn Luna Victoria, manager of the Marine Program of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Peru, mentions that the illegal capture is given by the meat, but also by some derivatives such as oil. “There are beliefs that it has healing properties and improves health. There are also families that consume turtles and restaurants that offer them clandestinely “.
In March of 1995, a resolution of the Ministry of Fisheries at that time (currently the Ministry of Production) prohibited the capture of all species of marine turtles in Peruvian waters. The norm requires that those who intentionally capture, process, commercialize or transport specimens of marine turtles will be sanctioned.
However, Luna Victoria points out, this practice is still carried out. An account that some fishermen, mainly in San Andres, still capture them, disembark during the dawn when there is no control from the authorities and sell them to those who come in search of these species that consider them an exotic food.
So Are the Peruvian Sea Species
The leatherback or leatherback turtle, the largest species of sea turtle, is listed as Critically Endangered in the eastern Pacific region, according to the IUCN. According to the evaluation of this international organization, the population in this part of the planet has been threatened for several decades. The reasons are incidental fishing, targeted capture and looting of eggs on nesting beaches that have reduced their population by up to 94.7% over the last three generations.
Joanna Alfaro, president of the ProDelphinus organization, explains that this species is critically endangered since the late 1980s and early 1990s. She says that the problem is greater on the Pacific coasts, while in the Atlantic it is They find themselves in a better situation. “Before, hundreds of animals to nest on the beaches of the Pacific, now appear 10 or 20”
Another species in a critical situation is the hawksbill turtle ( Eretmochelys imbricata ). This animal is also listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN. It is a species that lives in the reefs and that is observed with greater frequency in the sea of Tumbes and Piura, in the north of Peru. However, it is the most threatened worldwide due to illegal trade in its shell that is used in the manufacture of jewelry and crafts.
According to the IUCN, the commercial exploitation of its eggs, meat and shell have been the main causes of its decline, up to 80% of its population. Additionally, they face a greater threat due to the loss of coral reefs, which are disappearing mainly due to global warming.
The third species listed as Critically Endangered is the loggerhead turtle ( Caretta caretta ). It is a species that migrates from Australia to the coasts of Peru and Chile. The president of ProDelphinus points out that the bighead lives in Peru for several years, in its juvenile and adult stage and returns to the seas of Oceania to reproduce.
The overlap of places where it feeds with the fishing zones added to the incidental capture and its ineffective release in these cases maintain high levels of mortality of the species, as indicated by the IUCN evaluation.
On a smaller scale than the three previous ones is the green turtle ( Chelonia mydas ) cataloged as Endangered. It inhabits the entire Peruvian littoral, where it finds a large amount of food. However, this has been the most captured species for meat consumption.
“It is the most common species and easy to observe because their habits are more coastal. At El Ñuro beach, in Piura, there is the observation tourism of this species “, says Kelez, from Ecoceánica. The biologist also says that the green turtle was the most captured in the bay of Paracas, a tourist area in the Peruvian province of Pisco, where before the ban it was very common to find turtle meat in restaurants. However, he points out, that his population is currently increasing.
The species in the best situation in the Peruvian coasts is the parrot beak or olive ridley ( Lepidochelys olivacea ), currently classified as Vulnerable, according to the IUCN. “In recent years the population of the olive ridley has increased,” says Kelez.
However, the loss of beaches for their nesting in the north of the Peruvian coast, where it has been seen that they come to place their eggs, is increasing their risk of survival.
A Plan to Rescue Sea Turtles
The National Plan for the Conservation of Sea Turtles in Peru is currently in process, a proposal that seeks to reduce the main negative impacts of human activities that affect these species.
In 2014, the National Forestry and Wildlife Service (SERFOR) began the process of preparing this plan, with the participation of the Ministries of the Environment and Production; the National Forest and Wildlife Service, the National Service of Protected Areas by the State, the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (CIT) and WWF Peru, as well as local and regional governments, coastal communities, associations of fishermen, tour operators, universities, research centers and civil organizations.
“In April of this year the process of collecting contributions in the regions was completed, a task that has been in charge of Serfor. Now it is appropriate to request the technical opinion of the Ministries of Production and Foreign Trade and Tourism, “explains Luna Victoria of WWF Peru.
The plan proposes to face the risks that threaten the turtles through four lines of action over a period of 10 years, until 2028.
“They are species that play a key role in marine ecosystems,” says the WWF Peru expert. However, it regrets the lack of ordering of tourism activities, mainly in the north of the country, where tours are made to observe turtles and other marine species.
Luna Victoria points out that “there is an initiative to establish a regulation on the observation of marine fauna, but so far it has not materialized. In Peru, more and more tourists come to participate in turtle and whale watching, and tour operators are also increasing, but these activities are not yet regulated. ”
Source: El Comercio