What role can the Federation Government play in helping the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network (SKSTMN) with its goal of protecting the areas declining sea turtle population?
In answering this question, Dr Kimberly Stewart an instructor at the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM) who founded the SKSTMN highlighted the role government has played and continues to play to complement the group’s efforts.
“The Department Of Marine Resources is the agency for all sea turtle work and we wouldn’t be allowed to work if we didn’t have permission from them. They play the lead role in taking the data that is collected and then looking at it and determining how regulations need to be changed.”
She added that government agencies also assist with the enforcement of regulations as it relates to sea turtles.
“The Department of Environment plays a critical role in issues such as sea mining because that plays a major role in sea turtle nesting. If people are moving sand from these beaches they are sometimes moving nest and also just creating an environment where turtles can’t nest.”
Dr. Stewart also noted that the Ministry of Tourism and SKSTMN promotes sea turtle tourism and healthy sea turtle tourism. She also reminded of some initiatives that were embarked upon and were supported by Government which assisted in the protection of sea turtles.
“The Ministry of Tourism, the Sustainable Development Council and the SKSTMN this year promoted plastic free July which was an important thing to make all of us think about what we use every day.
“All these plastics impacts the sea turtles and the environment so trying to look at and encourage sustainable items as alternative to plastics.” She added that the government has a huge role to play in further developing regulations and enforcing them and promoting healthy practices.
When asked what was the greatest achievement of the SKSTMN since its inception, Dr. Stewart replied. “One of my favourites thus far is our sea turtle conservation education programme that was started in 2007 and a major focus of that is the sea turtle clean-up programme annually and we run it for two weeks.
“We do it in the primary and secondary schools and is for nine to 12- year olds. Every year we head out to the schools with registration forms and pick them up in June and have the camp in July.”
She added that since the start of that programme there has been a major demand for return visits so additional curriculum to be developed. “We have developed a second curriculum now and we have also had interest in people doing eco tours.”
Dr. Stewart indicated that children who enter the programme at primary school often continue with their interest in the area through high school and even beyond.
“We did an outcome assessment of that programme a couple of years ago where we surveyed all the former participants and their parents and we did find that parents were saying they thought that it had positive changes in their behaviour towards the environment and were more also aware of more job opportunities.
“It is definitely a programme that we are proud of, though it is a lot of work every year it is definitely worth it.”
She explained that during the group’s patrols it gets around 50-70 volunteers on a regular basis and have employees working on seasonal basis during nesting season.
The instructor explained that for leatherback nesting season patrols are done from April 1 to July 14, 8pm to 4am with the exception of Sunday nights. For the rest of the year it is a morning patrol.
Interested volunteers are asked visit the SKSTMN Facebook page and call their hotline at 764-6664 to report any sea turtle nest or any sea turtle in difficulty.
“Volunteers are definitely invited to participate in any capacity they are interested in and are free to contact us and we will be happy to work any one in,” Dr. Stewart said.