Gabon is an amazingly beautiful country but travel and logistics can be challenging to say the very least. I'm still in Libreville but thankfully, however, my equipment has arrived and I can start making plans to get to my field site. This year we had planned for Dan Costa to come and join me in the field but logistics fell apart as they often do: flights are currently not running to Mayumba (the town closest to my field site), the flight to the next nearest town has also been cancelled, the ATV used to reach the field site has broken, as has the WCS truck in Mayumba. Sadly this is all par for the course! Currently, it appears that I will be taking a bush taxi through the entire country to reach Mayumba, which involves about 375 miles (600 km) and a day in a half in the car on dirt (or mud, really) roads, in addition to a number of other convoluted routes to get all the way to the field site.
Speaking of the field site, let me tell you a little bit about it. Gabon is amazingly lucky in that it hosts one of the largest sea turtle populations in the world, and I am working in Mayumba National Park in the very south of the country. In fact, Gabon and Mayumba National Park is thought to be the largest nesting sites for leatherback sea turtles in the WORLD - lets just say that translates to a lot of turtles! (To see ongoing leatherback tagging efforts by our project partners go to the Gabon Leatherback Tracking Project) In addition, it is also thought to be one of the larger nesting sites for olive ridley sea turtles, the ones that I am here to study. Mayumba National Park was created in large part to protect sea turtles and other marine life (like humpback whales, which Bruce Mate another TOPP research tagged a few years back!) in the region. In fact, the boundaries extend 30 km and is off limits to fishing to protect turtles from bycatch. Despite this, however, illegal fishing does occur because it is a difficult area to patrol and because the park has limited resources to patrol the park. Dead turtles wash up on the beach by the dozens during certain parts of the year when illegal fishing is high.
This brings us to the main goals for this project. If we can understand where in the park (and in adjacent parks in Gabon and Congo) the turtles - both olive ridleys and leatherbacks - are going, what their internesting movements are like, and whether the park boundaries are effective, we can work to change the dimensions of the park as needed, as well as help the park managers know where are the most important areas of the park to patrol. In addition, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has given us support to increase the amount of patrols for olive ridleys. Normally, nest surveys don't start until about November 1st, as that's when leatherbacks begin nesting. But olive ridleys begin nesting earlier, so if we know when nesting begins and where it peaks, we also know WHEN is the most important time to keep illegal fishermen out of the park.
Okay, thats it for today - thanks for reading and I'll aim for more tomorrow!
To follow the turtles online, go to The Gabon Turtle Project Page on seaturtle.org
Click here to learn more about Mayumba National Park and donate to the park
This work is generously supported by:
National Science Foundation
Myers Oceanographic Trust
Friends of Long Marine Lab
Project Collaborators and Partners:
Parcs National Gabon
Partenariat Tortues Marines Gabon