Sea Turtle Nesting Sites in Photos: From the World’s Longest Beach

What is going on in the world’s longest sea beach–an important nesting habitat for sea turtle?

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Photos: Faraah Yeasmin and Pimple Barua

Last month, once again, we were off to the Cox’s Bazar – Teknaf beach for a survey of sea turtle nesting sites.

Team Turtle_Volunteers

As a part of the Team Turtle’s work, we are currently trying to identify the implications of coastal roads and other mega-infrastructure (which the authorities are currently pursuing vigorously) on the turtle nesting beaches and critical underwater habitats in the east coast of Bangladesh.

Here’s some of the representative photos from our last field trip:

As the Marine Drive makes way, healthy nesting beach like this one is disappearing.

To lay eggs, sea turtles need to make their nest in lower dunes or in the old beach near it.

Sea Turtle Carcass

But in recent years, you’ll find more dead sea turtles than their nests scattered along the beach.

The quiet days are almost gone, as the road rages on.

shoreline hardening

Shoreline hardening infrastructures are encroaching upon dunes and old beach ridges, clearing vegetation and destroying shorebirds’ and sea turtles’ important habitat.

Site for hotelsThe newly constructed road (i.e. Marine Drive) invites more hotel moguls to occupy the narrow strip of river plain between the protected hill forest and the sea. As a result, the lands in adjacent areas are being sold to outsiders, and it is a very common scene that sold areas are marked by concrete boundary and hoarding as designated sites for upcoming tourist facilities.

Nest Relocation

Local NGOs collect eggs from turtle nests on the beach and relocate on the vegetated sand dunes, and sometimes on the edge of river plain too where it is very unlikely to hatch (for some reasons, still unknown, they call it a ‘hatchery’).

Casuarina plantation

Casuarina (Jhau) plantation is available in many parts on the degraded dunes, and we observed that many trees have been fallen to make space for slums of Rohingya refugees. One of the many vivid examples of how a humanitarian crisis in neighbouring country can have an ecological consequence.

human-activities-in-beach

Human activities on the beach: (clockwise from top left to right) a road is constructed from the main road towards the beach, fishing gears, near shore fishing activities and a boat is placed in Casuarina plantations.

Faraah & Pimple are members of the TeamTurtle; volunteer Field Assistant for the 2016-17 season.

Bangladesh’s ‘Marine Drive’: At a glance

This is why the authorities are building a ‘marine drive’ on the world’s longest sea beach

The massive coastal construction dubbed as ‘marine drive’ is planned to be an 80-kilometer long road connecting Cox’s Bazar town and Teknaf peninsula. Along the world’s longest unbroken beach ridges, the road is something which many conservationists opine as unnecessary and harmful for the protected areas and critical ecosystems present on the both sides.

On the eastern side of the hills, the national highway network was already stretched to Teknaf town. Besides, there is another road just on the western edge of the Cox’s Bazar – Teknaf low hill ranges. Then why the authorities felt that a third road, just a few hundred meters apart, is needed to connect southern tip of the mainland?

Marine Drive
The road is being built on the edge of protected hill forests; by cutting hills in many cases and over the vegetated sand dunes.

The conceptualization of the project can be traced back to as early as 1993, involving a taka 117 crores project. According to the government, the project started with a target ‘to persuade tourists’ from home and abroad to offer ‘a spectacular view of the sea on one side and mountain on another’. Fund crisis led the construction to be phased out in three phases, and ‘lack of coordination’ between the Roads and Highways Division and the Army’s Engineering Corps also delayed the process.

The first phase was from Cox’s Bazar town’s Kolatoli point to Inani beach. This 24 kilometers long portion was built by the engineering corps of Bangladesh Army and took 17 years to complete. The second phase of the road, a 32-kilometer leg from Silkhali to Teknaf, was expected to completed by 2012. But it is still under construction.

Teknaf Beach.
Cox’s Bazar – Teknaf is the region where Bangladesh’s major sea turtle nesting beaches and key habitats for shorebirds are located.

To protect the road from erosion, the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) started to prepare for shoreline hardening works as a different project in 2000, which got the final approval in 2007.

Project Documents and statements of government officials suggest that the marine drive is expected to ‘reduce travel hours’ from Cox’s Bazar to Teknaf and Saint Martin’s Island.

The official narrative on the ‘benefits of the road’ goes like this: the road will open a big door for the tourism sector in Bangladesh. Central and local officials are confident enough that there will be more investments. They say, hotels will increase to accommodate the skyrocketing number of tourists, and the road will give the tourists a chance to ride through the hills and sea.

Marine Drive
While the natural barriers of rocky shore and sand dunes are degraded, the road is exposed to strong wave action of the Bay of Bengal. Shoreline hardening, works to protect the road from erosion, got the final approval in 2007.

This official narrative effectively overlooks the fact that, Cox’s Bazar sea beach–Hill ranges– Teknaf peninsula region is one of the unique biodiversity hotspots in Bangladesh. Till date, there is no assessment on ecological impacts of extended access to this region created by the new road. But the negative impact is already started to surface. For an instance, the nesting beaches of endangered sea turtles and key habitats for shorebirds are mostly overrun by the road and associated shoreline hardening structures.

Lastly, the mega-project is no more a way to attract tourists only but included in the plan of an international highway network. According to the new plan, the ‘marine drive’ will be extended to the northern part of the east coast in Chittagong’s Mirsharai sub-district. ‘With aims to strengthen regional connectivity, to get easy access to energy stations and economic zones, and to ensure an alternative route’ Mirsharai–Teknaf marine drive road will be a National Highway of 285-kilometer length and 7.2-meter pavement width. It will pass beside the largest sea port of Bangladesh and the largest ship breaking yard in the world. The total Project Cost is BDT 71700 Million (USD 920 million).

Riasad Bin Mahabub is a member of the TeamTurtle; a volunteer Field Assistant for the 2016-17 season. He studies Environmental Science and Management in North South University.

Shoreline hardening may reduce species diversity, abundance

This paper titled ‘Ecological Consequences of Shoreline Hardening: A Meta-Analysis’ by Gittman et al. has been published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in 2016

Review of Scholarly Article ‘Ecological Consequences of Shoreline Hardening: A Meta-Analysis’

We’ve found this recently published paper very relevant to the situation we are facing on the east coast of Bangladesh, where the authorities are building a coastal road dubbed as ‘Marine Drive’, so we’d love put some notes on the scholarly article here on this blog.

This paper titled ‘Ecological Consequences of Shoreline Hardening: A Meta-Analysis’ by Gittman et al. has been published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in 2016.

One of the major concerns of marine conservationists is that as the population grows rapidly, particularly in coastal areas, there are demands for engineered shore protection and shoreline hardening. But the increase of shoreline protection structures is predicted to be the reason behind the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services along the shorelines. The authors designed the study to find out if this hypothesis is true.

For this purpose, the authors conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of previous studies to compare the ecosystem services, biodiversity and organism abundance along shorelines with and without shoreline protection structures. Three types of structures were considered in this study: (1) seawalls and bulkheads which are vertical walls constructed parallel to shore in or above the high intertidal zone, (2) riprap revetments which are shore-parallel, sloped structures constructed of unconsolidated rock or rubble in or above the high intertidal zone, and (3) breakwaters and sills which are low intertidal or sub-tidal zones are referred to as breakwaters.

Among the 32 studies included in the analyses, 78% was evaluated seawalls, 28% riprap revetments, and 25% evaluated breakwaters. Most studies were conducted in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States. All of the studies were published since 2000, with nearly half of them published since 2010; this indicates that the collected information on the shoreline transformation is very recent.

Will there be any beach left for sea turtles to nest after Bangladesh build a coastal road along its entire eastern coast?

The result shows that seawalls have clear negative effects on coastal biodiversity and habitat quality: reduce 23% biodiversity and 45% organisms of the shorelines. In contrast, riprap or breakwater in the studies analyzed did not affect the biodiversity and abundance of organisms in shorelines much. However, this lack of difference may due to the heterogeneous effects of riprap or breakwaters across organism groups; or because of the small number of studies.

Gittman et al. conclude that the type, structure complexity, composition, and placement of shoreline hardening can have different impacts on the habitat value and functioning of nearshore ecosystems. Some of the main analyses are that: seawalls, with their vertical profile and typically uniform surface, do not offer the same refuge for nekton as boulders and camouflaging sediment or dense marsh vegetation. In contrast, both riprap and breakwaters may provide nekton with equivalent or greater refuge from predation or access to food resources because they typically consist of piles of unconsolidated rock and rubble of varying sizes and shapes. Besides, some shore-protection structures may serve as surrogate habitats for native epibiota where natural hard substrates, such as oyster reefs and mussel beds, have been lost to over-harvest, erosion, and poor water quality. However, the introduction of some types of hard substrates into soft-sediment and biogenic shorelines may also promote invasive species. Therefore, the location relative to invasion pathways and substrate type should be carefully considered. In addition, the construction of seawalls and to a lesser extent, a riprap revetment, can disrupt the connection between upland and intertidal habitat, reflect wave energy and alter sediment transport, and escalate the depth of the intertidal and nearshore subtidal zones. These effects can alter the vegetation nearshore thus disrupt the nutrient cycling and reduce pollutant filtration of the ecosystem.

In closing, they recommend coastal managers and decision-makers to consider all those ecological impacts when developing coastal shoreline policies and approving shoreline protection structures. They suggest it is better to use natural alternatives such as living or nature-based shore protection or biogenic habitat restoration which can reduce erosion while also enhancing other ecosystem services.

The authors admit that the study still has some limitations such as the significant heterogeneity across different shores, organism groups, or structure types; the small number of the studies; and lack of time series data in some studies.

For me, the interesting points I found out from reading this study is that the method of this study, systematic review, and meta-analysis, have some advantages as well as disadvantages. We can examine the effects of shoreline protection structures based on the result of previous studies, thus we don’t have to actually conduct research on the field but still can obtain a general picture of these structures in different case studies, at a different location.

However, they can be very heterogeneous and some studies might not maintain their measurements or sampling through time, thus the data is not absolutely reliable and uniform in all studies. The second interesting point for me is that not all engineered shoreline protection structures are harmful to shoreline biodiversity and ecosystems, sometimes they can be beneficial, depending on the type and location of the structures. Therefore, we should study throughout the effects of the structures before installing them. However, after all, it is better to use natural alternatives which can protect the shore as well as prevent potential harm to the ecosystem.

Reference:
Gittman, R. K., Scyphers, S. B., Smith, C. S., Neylan, I. P., & Grabowski, J. H. (2016). Ecological consequences of shoreline hardening: a meta-analysis. BioScience, biw091.

Tien Huynh is a member of the TeamTurtle; a volunteer Field Assistant for the 2016-17 season. She studies Environmental Science and Management in Asian Women University.

Bangladesh’s main sea turtle nesting beach; here’s what we’ve seen

We are currently trying to find exactly what implications coastal roads and other mega-infrastructure (which the authorities are currently pursuing vigorously) will have on the turtle nesting beaches and critical underwater habitats in the east coast of Bangladesh

Written by Faraah Yeasmin

For general purpose, we can divide the coast of Bangladesh into three broader regions; east coast including Cox’s Bazaar Beach, Teknaf Beach, Saint Martin’s Island, Kutubdia Island, Moheskhali Island and Sonadia Island has 12 major nesting sites, the Western coast has 6 nesting sites located in Bagerhat and Patuakhali districts. The central coast dominated by GBM estuary lack sandy beaches and does not have any notable nesting activity.

According to already available knowledge, it is known that among seven species of sea turtles three species namely Olive ridley, Green sea turtle and Hawksbill turtle inhabits the marine areas adjacent to Bangladesh. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has declared them as vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered species respectively. The population of Hawksbill is lowest whereas Olive Ridley has the highest population in our coastal regions.

Till date, the #TeamTurtle is mainly working on the east coast.

As a part the #TeamTurtle’s work we are currently trying to find exactly what implications coastal roads and other mega-infrastructure (which the authorities are currently pursuing vigorously) will have on the turtle nesting beaches and critical underwater habitats in the east coast of Bangladesh. In last December, we’ve done some surveys and observed current scenario of turtle nesting beaches.

marine drive
Contractors are cutting down the hills for earthwork of the road on the dunes.

During our field trip to the east coast, we also observed relocated nests of Olive ridley and Green sea turtle in some beaches.

From Cox’s Bazar to Teknaf, the under-construction ‘Marine Drive’, which is around 64 miles long till date, is being constructed mostly either on the edge of or over the sand dunes. We also witnessed that, nearby hills are also affected due to road construction. Contractors are cutting down the hills for earthwork of the road on the dunes.

To protect the road from coastal erosion, authorities are hardening the shoreline with concrete blocks, tetrapods, and geo-bags. All these shoreline hardening structures are being placed on the dunes or on the old beach ridges.

Coastal hardening
Hardening of the slopes followed by geo-bags and tetrapods. Beaches are almost gone.

Therefore the dune vegetation is degrading, and erosion along the hardened areas are notable, resulting in shrinking of nesting-able sandy beaches.

Beach areas have been encroached by hundreds of buildings including hotel, resort, and shop. Furthermore, witness account says locals have already sold lands to many corporations. The signboards on the lands say there will be hotels and resorts in very near future.

As a consequence artificial lights during the night, light pollution is really high along the nesting beaches, which certainly discourage the sea turtles from coming ashore to nest.

 

Faraah Yeasmin is a member of the TeamTurtle; a volunteer Field Assistant for the 2016-17 season. She studies Environmental Science and Management in North South University.

Season’s first baby sea turtles released into the bay

For Sumon Kormokar, taking care of still non-releasable babies after seeing so many of them killed was an emotional experience for two reasons

Sumon Kormokar knew that it’s the baby sea turtles who decide when they are ready for their journey to the open sea! More importantly, the 37 Olive ridley hatchlings he was taking care of were rescued from a nest predated by stray dogs. He was expected to keep them in a made-up nest, waiting for the natural removal of their umbilical cord and their ‘frenzy’ for swimming. Sumon, a volunteer Field Assistant for Saint Martin’s Island in-situ conservation of nesting sea turtles did it well on the last Monday and the night after the day.

Unfortunately 8 of the Olive ridley babies didn’t make it to the second day. Rest of them, 29 baby sea turtles got a second chance at life on Tuesday morning when they were released in the bay of the Bengal off the west beach of Saint Martin’s Island. Earlier on Monday morning our local volunteers rescued them from a nest under attack by a pack of 9 dogs. The nest was previously unidentified. Their 92 siblings did not survive the hatchday, they got killed and eaten by the dogs before one of the local boy- Saddam reached the scene and successfully shouted for public help.

For Sumon Kormokar, taking care of still non-releasable babies after seeing so many of them killed was an emotional experience for two reasons. First, he already knew that mortality rate of hatchlings from predated nest is very high. Secondly, he was aware that due to lack of volunteers it will not be possible to monitor total sea turtle nesting activity in the island in upcoming days also.

29 baby sea turtles got a second chance at life on Tuesday morning when they were released in the bay of the Bengal off the west beach of Saint Martin’s Island. Earlier on Monday morning our local volunteers rescued them from a nest under attack by a pack of 9 dogs. Photo: Sumon Kormokar/ Save Our Sea
29 baby sea turtles got a second chance at life on Tuesday morning when they were released in the bay of the Bengal off the west beach of Saint Martin’s Island. Earlier on Monday morning our local volunteers rescued them from a nest under attack by a pack of 9 dogs. Photo: Save Our Sea/ Sumon Kormokar

On Tuesday, just after a day of rescuing 37 hatchlings, the team got news of a dead mother turtle in the southern tip of the Island- Cheradia. Locals reported dog-attack while attempt of nesting by the Olive ridley mother. On Wednesday, the same team found another mother turtle in distress, under predator dog attack in Sheel Bunia Beach, which fortunately succeeded to return back to the sea with help but only after aborting the nesting.

The extent of introduced predators’ attacks on endangered sea turtles in Saint Martin’s is really disappointing. Currently there are at least 400 stray dogs on the island, pack of dogs eat the eggs and hatchlings and regularly attack mother turtles while they nest, pack of 14 to 15 dogs even in some cases attack small group of volunteers engaged in patrolling and nest monitoring.

Life of sea turtles into the sea are not like what it seems on TV screen; relaxing and comfortable. They faces dozens of human introduced threats in the water which starts from the trawl nets to plastic debris. Nevertheless they are more helpless on the land, where they come only for very short period of nesting. With their flippers they are very slow on the land, with their head which they can’t retract into their shell like terrestrial tortoises, they are very much helpless in the face of dog attacks. They get killed by predator dogs in 99% cases in St. Martin’s.

Given the extent of Save Our Sea’s capacity we can protect only one nesting beach (Golachipa) with volunteers. Rest of the nesting area generally sees ‘relocation’ efforts by some NGOs, but this unidentified nest and regular attacks on mother turtles show that the extent of patrolling for relocation is very poor. And off-course, the local administration, and conservation community failed to come-up with any strategy for removal of stray dogs from the island.

Olive ridley sea turtle hatchlings make their way to the sea after being rescued and taken care of by Save Our Sea volunteers during nest monitoring activities in Saint Martin’s Island. Photo: Save Our Sea/ Sumon Kormokar
Olive ridley sea turtle hatchlings make their way to the sea after being rescued and taken care of by Save Our Sea volunteers during nest monitoring activities in Saint Martin’s Island. Photo: Save Our Sea/ Sumon Kormokar

But the volunteer team of Sumon, Aziz and Abdullah can’t wait for any decision by the people who apparently don’t care much. The team spend their time 24/7 for patrolling in shifts, monitoring nesting activity as much they can and also rescuing mother turtles and hatchling from predator attacks. They generally expect to meet mother turtle of Lepidochelys olivacea (Olive ridley) species, Chelonia mydas (Green sea turtle) comes rarely. Olive ridley and green sea turtles are evaluated as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘endangered’ respectively on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Volunteers are expected to help the local youth with conservation activities and taking part in several scientific studies based on their qualifications.
Volunteers are expected to help the local youth with conservation activities and taking part in several scientific studies based on their qualifications.

Unfortunately, this threatened situation doesn’t see any sign of improvement in the Bay of Bengal region of Bangladesh. Deep sea trawling without Turtle Excluder Device (TED) throughout the EEZ (Though legally binding), unintended consequences of nest relocation, inappropriate hatchery operations, destruction or modification of habitats and nesting sites, unsustainable coastal development and tourism are bringing more sad news for threatened marine turtle populations in the Bay of Bengal.

 

Mohammad Arju is a mentor with the TeamTurtle. He can be reached at arju@saveoursea.social

How not to build a road on the beach

The nesting beaches of endangered sea turtles and key habitats for shorebirds are mostly overrun by the road and associated shoreline hardening structures.

Why they are building a paved road over the sand dunes? It was a question asked by many students with whom I was traveling to Marisbunia; a small locality near the southern tip of mainland Bangladesh.

The question came in their mind, I guess, because earlier on that day they saw how sand dunes protect the coastline and secure the land against salt water intrusion. And probably the answer is; the planners behind the Inani-Teknaf Marine Drive never had a first-hand experience about these sand barriers which works as a buffer against wave damages also.

If the purpose of this Marine Drive is to attract tourist to our ‘Longest Unbroken Beach’ in the world, then it has been designed to be doomed. This road is starting the process of breaking the beach in pieces. The road is being constructed by destroying dunes and vegetation, which will eventually face wave actions and erosion of increased intensity. Already a large portion of Marine Drive near Himchori is threatened by erosion.

Teknaf Beach
This natural landscape is almost gone. The river plain is fenced in pieces as designated site of hotels to be constructed, the dunes are under the road, and the old beach is encroached by the shoreline hardening structures.

The planners are apparently just unaware that, dunes act as a reservoir of sand to replenish and maintain the beach at times of erosion. Our planners typically got the classroom-lessons without very little experience on the ground and they are now risking it all; nature, coastal life and livelihoods. In this context, it’s a good sign that interest in field work is gradually increasing among the bosses of our academia. Policy makers, planners and practitioners need hands-on learning process while preparing themselves in the academy.

I believe, for the students who study in disciplines related to natural or social ecosystems, textbooks or lectures are just the tip of the iceberg, rather they need to find themselves in the very environment they are trying to ‘learn’ in the classroom. Students who study natural and social ecosystems need to find themselves in the very environment they are trying to ‘learn’ in the classroom.

The group of graduating students came here this week as part of their ‘Coastal Zone Management’ course from North South University. Twenty six students, two of their faculty members and me; we tried to run an unlearning process, not a ‘study tour’, or a typical ‘field visit’. They spotted coastal Geo-physical features and process, and talked to people from the locality.

It was not like visiting the ‘field’ to put their classroom lessons to good use, rather it was the opposite, exploring the social and natural ecosystems to prepare classroom lessons for the future. I guess, they loved the experience. People protect what they love. If the future generation of our planners can relate themselves with the natural systems, we won’t have to see a paved road on the beach.

What happens generally with text based and classroom dominated approach is; young mind learns to locate only ‘resources’ in our natural and social systems to use. As long as we consider something as only ‘resource’ and try to find diverse way to ‘use’, the risk of abuse come along as total package.

In these times of sea level rise and extreme weather events we need to rethink about this resource-use paradigm, we need to relate ourselves with the Ocean and explore the relationship on the ground.

 

Mohammad Arju is a mentor with the TeamTurtle. He can be reached at arju@saveoursea.social

Unsustainable fishing and tourism are killing sea turtles in St. Martin’s Island

To meet the increasing demand of fish for the tourists, the local fishers have started to rely on a fishing practice termed as ‘boulder fishing’

Our team was in the Saint Martin’s Island in the last February, the entire month. As part of the shooting of our Documentary Series we were busy in diving. In this very short period of time what we had seen under the surface was a very disheartening picture. The corals are almost gone around the island. For today, I will just talk about that disheartening scenario of the beach, which is the testimony of irresponsible fishing and tourism.

Oftentimes we had to see the dead bodies of the sea turtles and dolphins on the beach. And different species of sharks are also being killed as irresponsible fishing practice continues. Five dead sea turtles washed ashore in the first week of March only.

We have seen those dead bodies on the west beach, north side of the jetty and in the north beach (near the graveyard). All the dead bodies had marks of injury by the fishing net or some leftover of the net. After seeing a dead turtle on the northern part of the island one of our teammate Dr. Kazi Ahsan Habib identified it as a ‘green sea turtle’, one of the endangered species.

Though the government has acknowledged the Saint Martin’s Island as ‘Ecologically Critical Area’ or ECA, unfortunately, the marine area is not under any kind of protection. As a consequence, human activity is causing rapid deterioration in biodiversity. Even the protection of island as ECA is not noticeable. Due to an absence of capacity and manpower of Department of Environment, the island is virtually unprotected from harmful human activities.

According to the locals in Teknaf and in Saint Martin’s, activities degrading the environment have been highly increased in this popular tourism destination in the recent years.

To meet the increasing demand of fish for the tourists, the local fishers have started to rely on a fishing practice termed as ‘boulder fishing’. Fishers put submerged nets with very small mesh (20 mm at highest) over the coral colonies and tie the nets with heavy boulders. Usually, the nets are put over coral colonies off the north, northwest, east and southeast shore. These areas with seagrass and algae attract the turtles before they come ashore to nest. Oftentimes they get entangled in these nets.

On the beach, many hotel owners made rock-walls which prevent turtle to make their way to the nesting ground.

In absence of any Marine Protected Area in the Bay of Bengal, these magnificent and ancient reptiles are facing a massive decline in population. If we can successfully establish a Marine Protected Area covering the Saint Martin’s coral habitat, which we are advocating for some time, it can play a pioneering role in marine conservation in the Bay of Bengal to protect a unique ecosystem under so much pressure of tourism.

 

Mohammad Arju is a mentor with the TeamTurtle. He can be reached at arju@saveoursea.social