Memorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation Measures for Marine Turtles of the Atlantic Coast of Africa
Marine turtles are thought to be numerous along much of the Atlantic coast of Africa, extending from Morocco to South Africa. Information suggests that the waters of Morocco (which includes the Western Sahara region) are regularly visited by loggerhead Caretta caretta, leatherback Dermochelys coriacea, and green Chelonia mydas turtles, and occasionally by hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata and olive Ridley Lepidochelys olivacea turtles. Large numbers of marine turtles are systematically slaughtered for meat, and their eggs sold for food, beyond what is sustainable. Considerable numbers die after becoming entangled in fishing nets. Interest in basic research and conservation activities in a number of countries have grown considerably in recent years; however gaps in the knowledge of marine turtle distribution and abundance remain vast and efforts to coordinate conservation programmes at an international level are still in their infancy.
At a conference held in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire in May 1999, the conservation status of marine turtles in the region was reviewed, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning Conservation Measures for Marine Turtles of the Atlantic Coast of Africa was adopted. It covers 26 range states including some European countries, including the United Kingdom (on behalf of Ascension Island), Portugal (Azores & Madeira) and Spain (Canary Islands).
A detailed Conservation Plan has been developed to accompany the MoU. The objectives of the plan are to improve basic knowledge of species biology and migration routes; reduce direct and indirect causes of marine turtle mortality; engage local communities and others in conservation efforts; enhance co-operation and co-ordination within and among Range States; and secure funding to initiate or continue marine turtle conservation programmes.
The UK is considering whether to sign the MoU. Ascension Island boasts one of the largest green turtle rookeries in the Atlantic and their monitoring and conservation is a priority for this species. Recent genetic studies have estimated that 40% of the Ascension Island green turtle population feed in the Gulf of Guinea at some point during their life-time. Direct harvesting of turtles and by-catch in the rich fisheries of the Gulf of Guinea is therefore considered a substantial threat to Ascension Island population as a whole.
JNCC continues to provide up-to-date scientific advice to Defra in relation to this MoU.
JNCC attends international symposiums and conferences on marine turtle conservation and biology to be able to advise the CITES group and Defra on actions regarding marine turtle conservation in UK Overseas Territory and UK waters.