We are very excited to announce our new project run by our resident Marine Biologist in the monitoring and recording of Sea Turtles in the area.
Sea Turtles can be considered the ambassadors of the seas – They are one of very few species that cross the land/marine divide and have been on this earth for millions of years. They are vital not only to the marine ecosystem, but for the terrestrial coast line as well.
Sea Turtles are extremely important for the marine environment and play a myriad of roles in the marine ecosystem; from maintaining productive coral reef ecosystems, to providing a habitat for other marine life to live upon. Helping maintain sea grass beds, controlling jellyfish populations, providing food for other fish and marine organisms. Facilitating nutrient cycling from marine to terrestrial, by transporting and placing (eggs) essential nutrients from the oceans to beaches worldwide.
Green Turtles and Hawksbills are the two main species that we see here in Raja Ampat. Green Sea Turtles are the only vegetarian Species of Sea Turtle, they eat sea grasses and algae. We have many sea grass beds within the area and the green turtles trim these beds (along with Dougongs) allowing healthy new shoots to grow increasing the grass beds productivity. If the Sea Grass beds were left unattended the over grown grasses would create an environment where the growth of Slime molds would thrive suffocating the production of new shoots and other algae. Sea Grass beds are vital for nutrient cycling and proving a home to a large number of juvenile fish, Sea Horses, molluscs and other crustations to name a few.
Hawksbills are vital to the maintenance of the coral reefs systems, our reefs in Raja Ampat host the highest number of different coral species in the world. Making up the most Bio-diverse systems worldwide. A little known fact that sponges which make up the reefs are huge competitors for reef space, they are faster growing than corals and if allowed to they will suffocate corals as they grow.
Hawksbills love to eat sponges and therefore play a vital role in the maintenance of the reef. Without them trimming back the sponges the reefs wouldn’t have such a verity of hard corals. As the Hawkbills rip the sponges apart they then make them excessable to other animals to eat, as sponges have an exterior that many smaller animals can not penetrate.
More is known and documented about Sea Turtle nesting and the number of hatchlings emerging than most other areas of Sea Turtle research. Many other projects include satellite tagging programs to monitor where turtles are going at different times of year. We know from tracking information that Turtles cover large areas and spend different amounts of time in different areas, what we don’t always know is what they are doing in these areas.
In-water observations is a vital source of information to help fill in the blanks in these areas.
By simply recording sightings at different locations and also recording when Turtles weren’t sighted along with what the Turtles were doing when they were sighted will provide a wealth of information the Sea Turtle Researches just don’t have access to but divers do every day.
Recording the Species sighted its approximate size, any distinguishing features and colour, what it was doing such as Feeding, Sleeping, Swimming or coming up for air will all be a huge amount of information that divers here in Raja Ampat can contribute to Turtle Research and ultimately their protection and conservation. Raja Ampat was declared a Sea Turtle (and Shark) sanctuary in 2012, but since then there has been very little happening to record, monitor or even protect the Turtles of the area.
We hope that our project will help contribute to increase conservation efforts in the area. All being well we hope to be able to collaborate with other Dive Centres and liveaboards in the area to also record their sightings.