Tsunami destruction of fishing fleet brings respite for sea turtles

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2005:

VISAKHAPATNAM, VELANKANNI, PHUKET–The Indian Ocean sea
turtle nesting season had just begun when the tsunami hit on December
26, 2004.
“I was awake by five a.m.,” Visakha SPCA founder Pradeep
Kumar Nath told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Every morning during the nesting season Nath organizes
volunteer foot patrols to find and protect sea turtle nests along the
beaches of Visakhapatnam, India. The volunteers try to spot the
turtles as they come ashore, keep crowds away, and ensure that the
nests are properly buried, to avert predation by street dogs,
jungle cats, jackals, and foxes. “I have witnessed such incidents
since we began our turtle protection program,” Nath said. “The
dogs eat quite fast.”
On December 26, Nath recalled, “Our
poacher-turned-volunteer saw a sea turtle laying eggs, while another
turtle returned to the sea without laying, he informed me around
8.30 a.m.” It was a quiet morning. Done at the beach, the Visakha
SPCA team departed–just in time.

“In the state of Andhra Pradesh, India,” where
Visakhapatnam is the largest coastal city, “2,000 fishing boats were
lost,” the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization
summarized later. “About 300,000 fishers lost their jobs. In Tamil
Nadu,” the next state to the south, “591 fishing villages and the
Andaman and Nicobar islands have been badly affected. India’s
seafood exports may decline by around 30 percent,” the FAO predicted.
“In Sri Lanka more than 7,500 fishers have been killed and
over 5,600 are still missing,” the FAO continued. More than 80% of
the coastal fishing fleet was destroyed or seriously damaged, the
FAO said. Ten of the 12 major fishing harbors were “devastated.”
“In Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam province, Indonesia, 70% of
the small-scale fishing fleet has been destroyed,” the FAO added.
“In Nias Island, about 800 fishing canoes have been destroyed. Two
thirds of the fishers in Banda Aceh were killed.”
The FAO estimated that 4,500 Thai fishing boats were wrecked,
along with the infrastructure at eight harbors. “Hundreds of boats
and harbours were destroyed in the Maldives,” the FAO went on. “In
Myanmar, some 200 villages lost fishing vessels and infrastructure.
In Malaysia, the livelihoods of about 6,000 fishers were affected.
In Somalia, around 2,600 fishing boats were destroyed.”
The consequences of logging coastal mangroves to expand
aquaculture were first emphasized to Southeast Asia by the cyclone
that struck Orissa state, India, on October 29, 1999, killing
more than 10,000 people.
Aquaculture itself took a heavy hit on December 26. Equipment losses
in Thailand alone came to about $33 million, the FAO estimated.
FAO Fishery Technology Service chief Jeremy Turner announced
on January 13 that the FAO “has embarked on a concerted effort” to
help rebuild the fisheries and aquaculture industries of the
tsunami-affected nations. The European Union reportedly plans to
donate fishing boats bought as part of a plan to reduce the pressure
on European fisheries.
“After the tsunami our government wants to provide nets for
fishers. Norway and Italy have promised to donate nets,” Sri Lankan
animal advocate Kala Santha reported.
“Though we love all animals, we have to petition to save at
least sea turtles, sea birds, dugongs, and other endangered
species,” Santha pleaded. “Gill nets should not be used, and
turtle excluder devices should be introduced,” a requirement that
Sri Lanka, Thailand, and India were reluctant to enforce even
before the tsunami.
Rebuilding the fishing fleets, aquaculture, and beach
development around the Indian Ocean is likely to rebuild many of the
threats to sea turtles and nesting habitat that have caused declines
in the regional populations of all sea turtle species. Globally,
six of the seven sea turtle species are considered critically
endangered; leatherbacks have declined 95% since 1980.
For now, though, sea turtles are landing, nesting, and
returning to the sea with less interference than at any time in
decades.

Nestings, rescue

Despite mobilizing Visakha SPCA staff and volunteers to do
animal rescue work along more than 700 kilometres of battered coast,
Nath and others kept vigils to protect new nests and any remaining
pre-tsunami nests near Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam.
“At least seven sea turtles nested near Visakhapatnam just
three days after the tsunami,” Nath reported on December 29. “Some
sea turtles are coming in dead,” Nath added, “but we cannot conclude
that they died due to the tsunami, because at this time of year
thousands of turtles wash ashore after drowning in trawling nets.
“I am disappointed that the submarine was not thrown away,”
Nath admitted, referring to a decommissioned submarine that was
dragged to the beach at Visakhapatnam in 2000, against Visakha SPCA
opposition, to become part of a war memorial. The Visakha SPCA
fought the project all the way to the Supreme Court of India as a
potentially bad precedent for allowing development that might harm
sea turtle nesting habitat.
At Velankanni, to the south, a Catholic shrine city famed
as the site of visions of the Virgin Mary, Wildlife SOS veterinarian
Cyril Roy and team found that, “Many sea turtles were washed ashore
and killed,” e-mailed Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satanarayan.
“The rescue team also reported that in many places people were
digging the nests in the sands to collect the eggs,” Satanarayan
said.
But Dr. Roy rescued an injured olive ridley turtle near the
shrine itself.
“Local people were trying to kill the ‘bad omen,’ which came
with the misfortune of the tsunami,” Satanarayan explained. “In the
local language, the villagers say ‘The place where a turtle comes
and the king’s henchmen come are the same,'” perhaps in reference to
the Portuguese invasion that established the Catholic colony in
the15th century.
Fortunately a water-filled ditch carved by the tsunami kept
the mob at a slight distance from the sea turtle. No one knew for
sure how deep the ditch was.
“Dr. Roy had no option but to cross the creek before the
villagers,” Satanarayan said. “After crossing and towing the turtle
to safety, he found that she was severely dehydrated and had an
abdominal wound.” Taking the turtle to Chidambaram, 150 kilometres
away, Roy “rented a hut on the beach to set up a turtle rescue
center,” Satanarayan finished.
“It will be a satisfying moment when we see her go back to
the sea,” Roy said.

Recovery at Phuket
Across the Bay of Bengal, Phuket Marine Biological Center
researcher Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong on January 10 “awaited the
return of a leatherback turtle who laid eggs on Phuket’s Mai Khao
Beach late last week–the first of this endangered species to visit
the island in three years–to fit her with a tracking microchip,”
wrote Punnee Amornviputpanich of The Nation in Bangkok.
“According to Phuket Wildlife Fund official Wichote
Kraithep,” Kittiwattanawong said, “the tsunami waves cleared away
the fishing boats and fishing gear that had prevented the turtles
from nesting on the beach.
“Wichote said activists had long requested a ban on fishing
boats and equipment within an 8-kilometre radius of Mai Khao Beach,”
Kittiwattanawong added, “but the authorities claimed to lack the
personnel and funds to prevent fishing vessels from sneaking in. He
proposed three steps to protect sea turtles: declaring Sirinart
National Park a no-fishing zone, prohibiting big hotels on Mai Khao
Beach, which now has two with four more planned, and banning the
sale of food or goods made from turtles.”

SeaTurtle.Org fund

SeaTurtle.Org, hosts of the <www.seaturtle.org> news website
since 1996, formed an Indian Ocean Tsunami Sea Turtle Fund to “help
rebuild damaged and destroyed infrastructure related to sea turtle
research and conservation in the tsunami region. An advisory panel
of sea turtlers from the region is being established,” the group
pledged, “to determine how funds should be disbursed.
“It is expected that these funds will not be needed for a few
weeks,” Sea Turtle.Org continued, acknowledging that human services
would have to be restored before supplies and labor would be
available to rebuild sea turtle facilities.
“Our goal,” SeaTurtle.Org said, “is to have a large
pool of funds in place when such help is needed.
“At present,” SeaTurtle.Org added, “we know that among the
worst impacts to turtle conservation activities were in southern Sri
Lanka, and to a small extent in the Maldives.”
The Sri Lankan wildlife conservation department hatcheries at
Bundala and Kalametiyawa were destroyed. “We lost everything at
those hatcheries, which released about 4,000 turtles a year,”
wildlife department deputy director H. T. S. Fernando told AFP.
Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project director Dudely
Perera, 46, told Agence France-Press that most of the 215 sea
turtles he had been looking after were lost in the tsunami. He
returned the few adult turtles he found to the sea, hoping they
would survive without further care, and took seven baby turtles to
raise in his home, which was also flooded and seriously damaged.
But Perera was aware, he said, of 13 new turtle nests on
the nearby beaches.

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