Massive die-off of endangered turtles in the Guianas

Posted on 20 August 2001
PARAMARIBO, Suriname - Following the massive die-off of leatherback turtles in the Guianas, one of the most important nesting areas for marine turtles in the world, WWF, the conservation organization, today called on the governments of the region to strengthen fisheries legislation and enforcement.

According to WWF, hundreds of leatherback turtles have died during the current nesting season, which lasts until the end of this month. These high mortality rates are most likely linked to increased fishing activities near nesting beaches. Leatherbacks, and other turtles, get entangled in the nets, and drown, or are wounded when fishers try to save their nets by cutting out the turtles. Therefore, urgent protection measures are needed out at sea and not only on the beaches, WWF said.

Last April alone, the number of dead leatherbacks found on the beaches of French Guiana reached 11 a day. And while patrolling at sea in June, a WWF team found 12 entangled leatherbacks in a single net. Only one was still alive, and was released. According to WWF, nightly patrols also found many wounded leatherbacks, some with cuts and scars.

"Turtle mortality along the Guianas Coast has seriously increased in recent years," confirmed Arnoud Schouten, WWF-Guianas' Marine Turtle Coordinator. "High numbers of turtles are being caught in the nets of fishing boats in the area, some of them operating illegally."

In the Guianas, fishing regulations and their enforcement vary by country. Although turtle excluder devices are mandatory in Suriname and Guyana, WWF said both legislation and enforcement range from inadequate to severely inadequate in terms of turtle protection. While welcoming the steps taken by the national governments of the area to assist the conservation agencies and institutions in patrolling the waters near the nesting beaches, WWF is urging them to strengthen and support these efforts by developing sound and appropriate legislation, with the active participation of the fishers communities and the conservation institutions.

Up to fifty percent of the world population of leatherback turtles nest on the beaches of the Guianas, one of the few places on the globe still with a large population of this species. In the past, conservation efforts focused mainly on onshore protection of the turtles. Activities included monitoring and patrolling of beaches and environmental awareness for local communities. To face the new threats, WWF also supports the use of advanced technology such as satellite tracking of leatherbacks to better identify crucial habitats for sea turtles. Tagging techniques have been used for the last two years by scientists in Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana to monitor leatherback populations.

"Leatherback numbers in the Pacific have plummeted in the last twenty years," Arnoud Schouten added. "Models predict that Atlantic populations may also decline, unless strong measures are taken to halt the escalating mortality rates from pollution, disease and accidental catch in the fishing nets."

For further information:
Arnoud Schouten, WWF-Guianas' Marine Turtle Coordinator, e-mail: