After 3 years implementing the scientific research project “Conservation and restoration of sea turtle populations in Cù Lao Chàm Marine Protected Area (Chàm Island MPA)” piloting the relocation of sea turtle eggs from Côn Đảo National Park to Cù Lao Chàm for hatching from 2017 to 2019 with nearly 2.000 eggs, so far it can be confirmed that the environmental conditions and the quality of beaches in Cù Lao Chàm are completely suitable for sea turtles as well as resilience of sea turtle populations... This relocation of sea turtle eggs has created an important premise for the addition of the initial turtle breeding source and raising the awareness of stakeholders on protection and contribution to the restoration of sea turtle populations - endangered animal species in Cù Lao Chàm World Biosphere Reserve. On the World Environment Day (5 June, 2020), Vietnam Environment Administration Magazine (VEM) had an interview with Mr. Nguyễn Văn Vũ - Deputy Director of Cù Lao Chàm MPA Management Board about the results of the implementation of this project in the recent time.
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Vũ - Deputy Director of Cù Lao Chàm MPA Management Board
VEM: Could you tell us the reason for Cù Lao Chàm to implement the restoration and conservation of sea turtle populations in the recent time?
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Vũ: Sea turtles are very special creatures. They are symbols of longevity and knowledge that science has not yet deciphered all the great mysterious possibilities in their lifecycle.
Recently, when people understand the multifaceted values of sea turtles, especially their role for ecosystems, marine economy and culture for humans, particularly coastal fishing communities, all sea turtles in the ocean are at risk of extinction.
In Cù Lao Chàm MPA, through interacting with people, we discovered that in the past, this area had all 9 sand beaches that often had mother turtles to lay eggs and there have been many sea turtles living. At that time, people did not know about great values of sea turtles so they often took eggs for food and harmed sea turtles. In recent years, people of Cù Lao Chàm are eager to restore this rare group of sea turtles to the island. From these concerns, we are determined to explore and research to restore the sea turtle populations here.
VEM: Could you tell us the results after 3 years implementing the project to date?
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Vũ: In order to achieve the objectives of the Action Plan for restoration and conservation of sea turtles in Cù Lao Chàm for the period 2016 - 2025 with a vision to 2040, we determined that we need to understand some technical issues such as: Conditions for sea turtles to lay eggs; Food sources for sea turtles in Cù Lao Chàm; The ability of sea turtle eggs to hatch or not when transported with a distance of over 1.000 km (from Côn Đảo to Cù Lao Chàm)... Fortunately, recent studies have shown that natural and environmental conditions in Cù Lao Chàm are still good for restoration of sea turtles.
Since 2017, with the support of the Côn Đảo National Park Management Board, we have successfully transported, hatched and released into the sea of Cù Lao Chàm nearly 2.000 baby turtles. This is not only meaningful in terms of communication to raise awareness, but also helps us assess the scientific factors for the restoration of sea turtle populations. The high rate (over 90%) proved the feasibility of conservation and relocation of sea turtles at long distance.
Also with the attention and support of the people as well as the authorities from the central to local levels, it is a premise for the Sea Turtle Conservation Program to be implemented more effectively in the future.
VEM: As the Project Manager for the past 3 years, what advantages and disadvantages have you experienced in implementing this task?
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Vũ: Despite the great support from the leaders of Quảng Nam and Bà Rịa - Vũng Tàu provinces, especially the colleagues of Côn Đảo National Park, but as it is the first relocation of sea turtle eggs implemented and they are endangered species, so we must comply with very strict legal provisions (complete documents, procedures for giving - receiving eggs and transport permits).
Weather conditions are also big challenges for us. There were times when we came to Côn Đảo but could not get the eggs, so the plan had to be adjusted many times. When we returned to Cù Lao Chàm, MPA Management Board and volunteers must take turns to protect the eggs 24 hours a day, preventing the access of strangers as well as other animals. There were times when the sea was rough (low pressure, monsoon), sea water flooded into the hatching eggs... we had to mobilize personnel to move eggs to higher places at the midnight so that eggs were safe.
Although it was difficult and hard, when seeing the baby turtles protruding from their nests and crawling toward the sea, so much suffering disappeared. As the baby turtles swam away, they also brought so much hope for conservationists and people on Cù Lao Chàm Island.
VEM: Could you tell us the plan for conservation of sea turtles in the near future so that Cù Lao Chàm will become a breeding ground for turtles like 20 years ago?
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Vũ: After 3 years of implementation, to date the initial results are encouraging! However, the implementation is still long and very arduous, we are working hard to overcome.
Now although Cù Lao Chàm people do not catch or kill sea turtles but the use of fishing nets, especially 3-layer nets, is really a big barrier for the return of sea turtles. In the past few years, we recorded about 10 individuals of turtles caught in the nets of local fishermen, most of who died before being rescued in time. Therefore, advocacy and finding solutions to replace the use of 3-layer nets should be the attention for quick action by the concerned agencies and sectors in the coming time.
Also, need to "pave the way" for sea turtles to lay eggs. Currently, there are still many local fishermen operating in Cù Lao Chàm MPA, especially in the water areas in front of the sand beach. Therefore, we are submitting to the People's Committee of Quảng Nam province to adjust the Cù Lao Chàm MPA management zoning, including re-planning the fishing areas to "pave the way" for sea turtles to breed.
Sea turtles are afraid of light and noise, while beaches - formerly the breeding ground for sea turtles - are in the tourist business. Therefore, in order to harmonize tourist development with conservation, stakeholders need to find solutions to protect the environment, biodiversity as well as restore sea turtles from the impacts of tourism.
Currently, we are campaigning to establish a Wildlife Rescue Station in Cù Lao Chàm, in the immediate future to rescue and provide medical treatment to sea turtles, dolphins in distress as well as other creatures, also continue to restore important marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs, sea grass beds... as these are the preferred habitat for sea turtles.
VEM: On the occasion of the World Environment Day 2020, what suggestions do you have for the authorities?
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Vũ: Many researches in the world have shown that our Mother Earth may be at the limit of suffering because of the terrible destruction of humans. Therefore, we cannot hesitate any more, we must act now. In particular, special priority should be given to resources to protect the sea and forests and above all we need an integrated model of natural resource management for sustainable economic development and a healthy living environment for everyone.
VEM: Sincerely thank you!
Đức Trí (Implemented)
(Nguồn: Bài đăng trên Tạp chí Môi trường số Chuyên đề Tiếng Anh II/2020)