Monitoring and conservation of leatherback turtles and their habitats in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Adhith Swaminathan, Kartik Shanker

Very little is known about the status of leatherback populations from Indian waters, barring work by ANET on Great Nicobar Island in the early 2000s, and the surveys conducted by the CES, Dakshin and ANET on Little Andaman Island. In collaboration with the Andaman Nicobar Environment Team (ANET), the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), Indian Institute of Science, and Andaman and Nicobar Forest Department, Dakshin has developed a long-term monitoring and conservation programme for sea turtles of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in particular for leatherback turtles. The programme also has a strong focus on developing networks for conservation in the region and a long-term education and outreach programme to sensitise government authorities and local communities to the conservation of sea turtles and their habitats.

In 2008, a long-term monitoring programme was initiated on Little Andaman Island. Since then, two of the most important nesting beaches in the Andaman group of islands – namely, West Bay and South Bay beaches on Little Andaman Island – have been monitored annually, roughly between November and March.

The leatherback monitoring programme at South and West Bay reveals a steady increase in leatherback nesting. Since the initiation of the project, over 150 individuals have been tagged with PIT tags and flipper tags. Telemetry studies conducted between 2010 to 2014 on ten individuals indicate that leatherback turtles from Little Andaman traverse much of the Indian Ocean during their foraging migrations, ranging as far east as Western Australia, and as far west as Mozambique and Madagascar.

Our recent surveys in 2016 and 2019 of the Nicobar group of Islands reveal that all the important nesting beaches have formed again after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and are still favorable for leatherback nesting. The beaches of Great and Little Nicobar Island continue to have the highest leatherback nesting in the region.

While this population was once considered to be declining, we have observed a stable trend in the nest numbers, with some annual variation. With over 1000 nests per season, this is the most significant nesting population in the northeast Indian Ocean.



Funding Agency Year
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States Department of Commerce 2008-2009
Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 2009-2010
Indian Space Research Organisation/Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore Space Technology Cell 2010-2013
Marine Turtle Conservation Fund, US Fish and Wildlife Service 2012-2020
International Seafood Sustainability Foundation 2011-2020
The Pollination Project 2019-2020

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