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

Adhith Swaminathan, Kartik Shanker, Naveen Namboothri

In collaboration with the Andaman Nicobar Environment Team (ANET), the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), Indian Institute of Science, and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT), 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 on conserving sea turtles and their habitats.

Very little is known about the status of leatherback populations from Indian waters, barring recent work by ANET on Great Nicobar Island, and the surveys conducted by the CES, Dakshin and ANET on Little Andaman Island. Given recent population declines of leatherbacks in the Pacific, it is imperative to monitor trends in populations of these turtles in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. During January – April 2008, a monitoring programme was initiated on Little Andaman Island. Since then, this programme has successfully completed five years of monitoring of two of the most important nesting beaches in the Andaman group of islands – namely, West Bay and South Bay beaches on Little Andaman Island. West Bay has been monitored for the entire season since 2010, with about 100 – 150 leatherback nests counted per season.

With support from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Space Technology Cell, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, a satellite telemetry study on the leatherback turtles of the Little Andaman Island was initiated in 2010. Satellite transmitters have been deployed on a total of six turtles and updates and the results of the study are available online at www.seaturtle.org.

Dakshin is extending our leatherback monitoring programme to cover the island groups of the Nicobars as well. Though there is little information on the status of these nesting beaches post the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami, surveys have revealed that new beaches have formed and nesting is occurring once again in this region.

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