Vanishing forests spell bad news for sea turtles

02 March 2008


This week there is rather discomforting news of an unexpected link between environmental problems on land and those in the sea - it seems that cutting down rainforests in West Africa is damaging not only the forests and everything that lives in them but may also be harming endangered sea turtles.

Leatherback Sea TurtleGabon lies on the Atlantic coast of Africa, and around two thirds of its vast rainforests are being opened up to logging. Trees are felled and then floated down rivers to the coast where they are collected for export.  But a lot of them get washed out to sea and end up on beaches where leatherback turtles are trying to nest.

It might seem fairly trivial to have a few trees scattered around on a beach, but the effects can be quite serious.  An international team of researchers led by William Laurance from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama has been studying turtle nesting beaches in Gabon and found that between 2002 and 2004 over ten percent of nesting attempts were aborted because logs got in the way of females trying to lay eggs. They also found that around a third of Pongara Beach, one of the world's most important leatherback nesting beaches, was clogged up with logs.

Conservationists want to see changes put in place to end the wasteful loss of trees and to help protect these important turtle nesting beaches. One problem is that under current laws, the misplaced logs belong to the Gabon government, so it's illegal to try and move them. And these are really valuable trees - around 11 thousand were counted on the beaches during the survey, worth in the region of 11 million dollars.

Things that could help the situation include the introduction of regulations to ban logging during turtle nesting seasons and to clear logs off beaches - but that would have to be done very carefully, so as not to disrupt the nesting sites even more.


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