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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Looking good for Africa's turtles
Turtle, BBC
Turtles are under pressure around the world
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By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent, in Nairobi
The prospects for Africa's marine turtles are brighter, with six more countries promising to work to protect them.

The strengthened international agreements cover turtles in both the Indian and the Atlantic oceans. They offer hope of better protection of the beaches where the turtles nest.

The whole point of this is to get the fishermen onside, and if they're not happy then it won't work

Douglas Hykle, Convention on Migratory Species
And they bring closer the introduction of devices to keep the creatures out of fishing nets.

The development came at a meeting here organised by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in association with the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep).

It involved five more countries along Africa's western seaboard (Angola, Morocco, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, and Sierra Leone) joining the 12 which have already signed a memorandum of understanding on turtle conservation on the Atlantic coast.

Kenya added its signature to those of 10 other states which have signed a similar memorandum covering Indian Ocean turtles. Both memoranda commit their signatories to implement a conservation plan which the deputy executive secretary of the CMS, Douglas Hykle, called "very ambitious".

Friendly traps

He said the plan would protect nesting beaches, and both memoranda in effect recommended the introduction of turtle excluder devices (Teds) to keep the animals clear of fishing nets.

Mr Hykle said: "The whole point of this is to get the fishermen onside, and if they're not happy then it won't work."

Teds are spring-loaded traps in the nets - the turtles can escape through them, but fish cannot. It is estimated that they can save up to 90% of the turtles.

Teds cost about $400 in the US, a prohibitive price for fishermen in developing countries, but the cost drops steeply if they are made locally.

On 27 April the US told Nigeria it had been certified for the second year running as meeting the requirements for continued shrimp exports to American markets, chiefly because of its use of Teds.

The Nigerian Minister of State for the Environment, Chief Imeh Okopido, told BBC News Online: "We're very pleased about this. We intend to make sure we pass subsequent annual US inspections too."

Global significance

Of the world's eight marine turtle species, six are found in African waters: loggerheads, green turtles, leatherbacks, hawksbills, Kemp's or Atlantic Ridleys, and olive Ridleys. All are declining.

A CMS survey into Atlantic turtles last year found that the West African coast, from Morocco to South Africa, holds some of the world's most important feeding and nesting sites.

It said southern Gabon had the world's largest number of nesting leatherbacks.

The survey found a population of loggerheads, possibly the largest in the Atlantic, in the Cape Verde islands, and said Mauritania had the most important West African feeding grounds for green turtles.

Olive Ridleys were found nesting from Guinea-Bissau in the north all the way to Angola.

Mr Hykle said: "There's been a decline of 95% in leatherbacks in the Pacific, and figures like that help to show the growing global importance of the populations that survive around Africa."

See also:

02 Mar 02 | Sci/Tech
Search is on to save turtles
19 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Technology hope for turtles
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