Agnese Mancini, Turtlewatch Egypt, 2018 SCHOLAR
"TurtleWatch Egypt – Can citizen science help us identify important areas for turtles?"
SCHOLAR Profile (geonet)
ABSTRACT: "Five species of marine turtles are known to inhabit the Egyptian Red Sea, endangered green and critically endangered hawksbill turtles being the most commonly observed species. Nevertheless information on important aggregations sites, population structure and population abundance are still quite scarce. An intensive scientific monitoring has been conducted between 2010 and 2013 but such an effort had to be limited in time (3 years) and space (Southern Egyptian Red Sea), due to the limited human and financial capital available. The Egyptian Red Sea coast extends for more than 1,000 km (including the Suez Canal and the South Sinai peninsula) and includes various off-shore islands. Therefore an extensive scientific monitoring program would require considerable funds and a relatively big team, making such an event practically impossible on the long run. For this reason, between 2011 and 2013 we tested a citizen science based monitoring program, called TurtleWatch Egypt that was aimed at collecting information on marine turtles in their feeding grounds. Dive centres were approached through the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), an Egyptian NGO created 20 years ago by dive centres. During the study period 2,448 surveys were completed at 157 sites and a total of 1038 sightings of turtles were reported. Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green (Chelonia mydas) turtles made up to 68% and 28% respectively of the total number of sightings; however rare species like loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and olive ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea) were also detected (less than 1% of total sightings respectively). Some of the monitored sites were classified as important for turtles, due to the high probability to spot at least one individual; while in other sites no turtles were observed over multiple monitoring occasions. Most participants reported adult sized turtles, although many size classes were observed (range of straight carapace length SCL for green turtles: 30-150 cm, range of SCL for hawksbill turtles: 30-100 cm). 34% of the observed turtles were classified as adult males, providing important input on the distribution of males during nesting and non-nesting seasons. Furthermore, behaviours like mating and courtship were reported from sites where these activities hadn't been previously detected. Results from this initiative provided important new knowledge of marine turtles in the Red Sea, especially from largely understudied feeding grounds. This shows the great potential for using citizen science monitoring programs to collect basic information on endangered species in the Red Sea thanks to the presence of large numbers of safari boats and dive centers going at sea daily. "