Since WWF started operating in Suriname, protection of sea turtles has been a foundation of its conservation work. Sea turtles have been under increasing pressure globally, due to unsustainable fishing practices, poaching, (plastic) pollution in the sea, and light pollution on nesting beaches. All sea turtle species are considered endangered. In the Guianas, four of the eight species nest each year on the beaches.
In Suriname, much attention has been given to institutional strengthening and capacity building of the government’s Nature Conservation Department and the Foundation for Nature Conservation (Stinasu), which were already endeavouring to protect the four species of sea turtles on the nesting beaches. During nesting season, WWF-Guianas has been supporting game wardens on the nesting beaches of Braamspunt and Galibi for years. They protect sea turtle nests against poachers and others who are prohibited from entering the beaches during the nesting season. With the Indigenous and local communities, a programme was started to build awareness on turtle protection, while promoting local tourism activities to develop alternative livelihoods for the communities.
The conservation of sea turtles also still depends much on support from WWF. To have a more inclusive approach, we are working with the Nature Division and other local stakeholders to develop a sustainable turtle conservation strategy. Most urgent is to halve the rapid decline of the population of the already critically endangered leatherbacks. This is for a large part caused by bycatch in the fisheries. WWF-Guianas has successfully piloted Turtle Excluding Devices, known as TEDs. These greatly reduce the number of leatherbacks that otherwise get entangled and drown in fishing nets, while at the same time not having any negative effect on the catch of the fisheries. In Guyana, the Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society (GMTCS) was set up and supported by WWF-Guianas to protect the sea turtles and their eggs, while Shell Beach, located on the Atlantic coast near the Guyana-Venezuela border, was declared a protected area with support from WWF-Guianas.
The beach extends c.120 km, and is a nesting site for four of the eight sea turtle species. These efforts have led to better protection of nesting beaches and more awareness among the public on the effects of poaching and consuming turtle eggs. Unfortunately, the number of nests of the critically endangered leatherbacks have shown a steep decline over the last couple of years. Unsustainable fisheries are suspected to play a concerning role in this. It shows that nature conservation is more necessary than ever, and efforts to save sea turtles have to be ramped up to meet new challenges.