By: Environmental Awareness Group (EAG)
Having witnessed the positive conservation impact on the offshore islands that occurs when shifting focus from a single species to the entire ecosystem, the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) has opted to take the same approach with their long-standing sea turtle project, through the launch of the Antigua Marine Conservation Programme.
The world’s biggest environmental problems require big ideas and sound solutions; ones that are based in science, and cultural expression. This has been the backdrop from which all of the EAG’s projects and programmes have stemmed. Whether it was rescuing the endemic Antiguan Racer from the brink of extinction, or saving Redonda from crumbling into the sea, we have acknowledged that each problem required ambitious thinking and strong partnerships.
The EAG’s Antigua Sea Turtle Project (ASTP), launched in 2007 with help from Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) experts, is renowned for taking a similar position of ambition. This project, which has engaged hundreds of enthusiastic Antiguans for over a decade, was designed to monitor and manage endangered sea turtles such as the Green, Loggerhead, Leatherback, and Hawksbill turtles foraging and/or nesting along our coastline. These turtles, whose lives are threatened by climate change, killing by mongooses and dogs, poaching by humans, and countless other challenges, have grown dear to many Antiguans.
During that decade, the ASTP has brought countless Antiguans & Barbudans to local beaches to witness the wonder of a sea turtle laying eggs, or hatchlings taking their first steps towards the ocean. We have worked with hotels and security companies to properly manage sea turtle nests and spread the word about nesting seasons, and joined with local partners to install turtle-friendly lights on nesting beaches. Above all, we have touched the hearts of the public through our photos and videos of these experiences, sharing with everyone the love and respect we have for these precious animals.
Now it is time to expand our ambition.
Recognizing the continuing threats posed to sea turtles, it is time to step up in our efforts towards their protection. Hence, the EAG is pleased to launch the Antigua Marine Conservation Programme (AMCP). This programme, supported by the Team Antigua Atlantic Rowers and rooted in the best available science, will take a full ecosystem approach to sea turtle conservation; focusing on protecting the species we have all come to know and love by taking care of them and the habitats they call their home. This work will look at creating and sustaining ecosystem balance, so that not only will sea turtles themselves thrive, but the very habitats that support and surround them – and us – will thrive, as well.
“When we made our record-breaking row of the Atlantic in 2018, we did it to give back something significant to the sea and to its protection,” said a spokesman for the Team Antigua Atlantic Rowers. “We are confident that the EAG’s Antigua Marine Conservation Programme will be a shining example of marine conservation and management.”
All of EAG’s programmes have been successful because of partnerships, and the AMCP will build on this tradition.
“The EAG is a long-time member of WIDECAST, and has contributed in important ways to the international push for sea turtle conservation in this local space,” noted Dr. Karen Eckert, Executive Director of WIDECAST. “As the programme expands, WIDECAST experts will lend support in its design to ensure maximum impact, especially as regards to best practices in monitoring and managing seagrass beds and other critical ecosystems. It’s wonderful to see this new programme developing, I know it will inspire much-needed ecosystem-scale conservation elsewhere in the region, as well.”
“We also intend to work closely with local programmes that are already implementing projects within the marine space,” remarked Arica Hill, Executive Director of the EAG. Hill continues, “We have been fortunate to create ties with the National Parks Authority and the Elkhorn Marine Conservancy, and we hope to work along with others so that we can share skills and resources. Our desire is to safeguard our territorial waters for the benefit of people and wildlife.”
AMCP’s work will include the scientists who have volunteered their time with the EAG’s Antigua Sea Turtle Project over the years. At its inception, Dr. Kate Levasseur, a researcher and sea turtle expert who has worked for years with the world-renowned Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project, will also lend her support in the development of AMCP.
“I am excited to work along with an organisation that has demonstrated real concern for the natural environment, and that has been instrumental in raising the bar for the conservation of sea turtles within Antigua and Barbuda,” stated Levasseur. “Sea turtles and their interactions with critical nesting and foraging habitat present an interesting angle for management of the marine environment, and I hope to work along with the EAG to build those management mechanisms into the programme.”
The programme is still very much in its infancy stage, and the design of the programme, along with its strategic targets, will begin through stakeholder engagement and research from October 2021. The official launch of the programme is slated for March 2022.
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