The St. Maarten Nature Foundation is collaborating with the University of Groningen (NL) and IMARES Wageningen UR (NL) on a Dutch Caribbean sea turtle project funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). Green and hawksbill turtles are observed feeding in the waters of St. Maarten with both species also nesting on St. Maarten along with the leatherback turtle.
Green and hawksbill turtles are needed for healthy seagrass and coral reef ecosystems, which are highly valuable ecosystems from an economic, cultural and scientific point of view. However, the green turtle and hawksbill turtle are highly endangered species. Many nesting populations have disappeared and others have been reduced to dangerously low numbers because of severe hunting and habitat destruction.
Jurjan van der Zee, a PhD candidate from the University of Groningen, is visiting and joining the Nature Foundation for two weeks to measure, tag and sample green and hawksbill turtles foraging in the waters around St. Maarten. The samples will be used for isotope and DNA analysis. The isotope analysis will reveal the diet of St. Maarten green and hawksbill turtles, for example which species of seagrass are being eaten by green turtles and which sponges are being eaten by hawksbill turtles.
By studying their DNA, St. Maarten green and hawksbill turtles can be traced back to the area where they were born and show which Caribbean nesting populations, some which may be severely endangered, feed in St. Maarten. The data coming from St. Maarten will be integrated with similar data from the other Dutch Caribbean islands and will be used to help the conservation of sea turtles.
“This project is a part of our work to conserve and protect these endangered species from extinction, and we hope that with the results we can conduct better management actions to ensure that these very important animals make a successful recovery,” commented Tadzio Bervoets, Nature Foundation Manager