Assessing the knowledge and perceptions of Bahamians concerning sea turtles and their conservation

Presented by Annabelle Brooks

Annabelle Brooks, Rachel Miller, and Kate Barley-Kincaid

The shallow banks environment of The Bahamas is an important foraging ground for juvenile and sub-adult individuals of four of the seven species of sea turtle. Green, loggerhead, hawksbill, and leatherback sea turtles frequent coastal habitats such as tidal mangrove creeks, seagrass beds, and coral reefs throughout the archipelago. Mating and nesting individuals have also been anecdotally documented in certain locations, yet little data exists on these events. Sea turtles were traditionally harvested for their meat and shells, and were considered to be a valuable resource for fishermen and an important local food source. In 2009, the Department of Marine Resources of the Bahamian Government implemented a nationwide ban on the take and sale of all sea turtle species and products in response to global declines in sea turtle populations. This major conservation milestone was not accompanied by any significant awareness and education and outreach initiatives. Despite the ban being in place for six years, there is evidence of continued poaching of sea turtles throughout the islands. Studies have shown that local community participation and support is essential to the success of a conservation program, and this can be encouraged through educational training. No studies have investigated how extensive knowledge of the sea turtle harvest ban in The Bahamas is, nor how those who are aware of the regulation perceive the ban and sea turtle conservation efforts in general. The goal of this study was to determine the extent to which Bahamians in Eleuthera know about the harvest ban and sea turtles in general. Overall, 48 individuals from 9 settlements participated in a 12-question, semi-structured interview. Questions were designed to collect quantitative and qualitative data through the use of yes/no, Likert Scale statements, and open-ended questions. 67% (n=32) of respondents were aware of the ban on the harvest of sea turtles; 19% (n=9) agreed with the ban, but did not know why the ban was in place, while 8% (n=4) disagreed with the ban, claiming turtles are an important food source that does not need to be regulated. 19% (n=9) believe it is important to protect populations for future generations, while 8% (n=4) believe that a seasonal closure should exist for sea turtles, much like those for Nassau grouper and crawfish in The Bahamas. The most commonly reported food source for sea turtles was conch (33%, n=16). It is possible that because loggerheads eat conch, Bahamians are associating that diet with all species of sea turtles found in the Bahamas, including the relatively abundant and herbivorous green sea turtle. Overall, it appears that Bahamians are accepting of the ban and support the regulation, with 96% (n=48) of interviewees stating that it is important to protect sea turtles. This research provides an opportunity to determine the knowledge gap between conservation planners, resource managers and local community stakeholders. The information collected to date is encouraging for the successful development and implementation of education and awareness programs that will motivate the environmentally responsible behavior essential for the conservation of endangered.

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