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Recovery Strategy for the Leatherback Turtle in Atlantic Canada


4. Recovery

4.1 Recovery Feasibility

This recovery strategy takes a precautionary approach and suggests that recovery for the Atlantic leatherback turtle is feasible in the absence of information that would prove otherwise.

Many biological parameters, necessary to model recovery feasibility, are not understood for the leatherback. The species' capacity to rebound depends on fecundity, life span, age at maturity and survivorship, none of which are currently known. Therefore, it is difficult to predict the potential for recovery of the species. More specifically, it is not presently possible to state quantitatively whether implementing recovery efforts under this strategy will lead to the de-listing of leatherback turtles.

Furthermore, the full range of threats to the species in Atlantic Canadian waters is not completely understood, and much needs to be determined to understand how effective mitigation measures would be coordinated. International efforts will be critical to protect the species throughout their global migratory, foraging, breeding, nesting and developmental habitats.

Nonetheless, most of the observed decline has been in the Pacific population. A recent evaluation of trends at Pacific nesting beaches suggests a much greater rate of decline in the Pacific population of leatherbacks than in the Atlantic (Spotila et al., 2000). Therefore, current recovery efforts by nations interacting with Atlantic leatherbacks, and now Canadian efforts, generate guarded optimism for the species in the Atlantic. Implementation of the recommendations contained herein will provide population biologists with the information required to more clearly understand recovery feasibility of leatherback turtles in Atlantic Canada.

Information on the status of the entire population in the Atlantic is not available. While the number nesting appears to be stable or increasing in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Florida, the overall trend for the major nesting rookery in the French Guiana/Suriname region has been negative since 1987 (NMFS SEFSC, 2001), and is therefore suggestive that leatherbacks in the western Atlantic continue to experience mortality rates that exceed sustainable levels. Therefore Canadian efforts, in conjunction with the efforts of all nations having an impact on leatherbacks, are required for the recovery of Atlantic leatherbacks. Implementation of the recommendations contained in the Recovery Strategy will provide biologists and managers with the information required to better understand recovery feasibility of the Atlantic population of the leatherback turtle.

4.2 Recovery Goal

The goal for the recovery strategy is to "increase the population such that the long-term viability of the leatherback turtles frequenting Atlantic Canadian waters is achieved".

4.3 Recovery Objectives

Creating and maintaining the necessary conditions both within Canadian territory and abroad in efforts to achieve a viable population of Atlantic leatherback turtles will be accomplished by implementing the following recovery objectives:

  • Objective 1: Understanding Threats. Identify and understand anthropogenic threats to leatherback turtles in Atlantic Canadian waters.

  • Objective 2: Understanding Leatherback Turtle Life History Characteristics. Support research and monitoring that will fill knowledge gaps concerning general organismal traits of leatherback turtles in Atlantic Canadian waters.

  • Objective 3: Habitat Identification and Protection. Identify and protect habitat of leatherback turtles in Atlantic Canadian waters.

  • Objective 4: Risk Reduction. Minimize risk of harm to leatherback turtles from anthropogenic activities under Canadian jurisdiction.

  • Objective 5: Education. Develop and implement education activities that support leatherback turtle recovery in Canada.

  • Objective 6: International Initiatives. Promote international initiatives contributing to the recovery of leatherback turtles.

Following each objective is a series of strategies that, when implemented, will directly respond to their corresponding objective. These strategies attempt to provide sufficient level of detail in order to facilitate the next step of recovery planning, which is the development of recovery action plans.

The six recovery objectives and their respective strategies are as follows:

Objective 1: Understanding Threats. Identify and understand anthropogenic threats to leatherback turtles in Atlantic waters.

Rationale: The current state of knowledge about threats to leatherback turtles in Canadian waters is poor. Much more information, and synthesis of information, are needed to guide recovery activities, and to guide communication about them. Implementation of the following strategies will enhance the ability to assess and evaluate these threats and to work towards developing appropriate mitigation measures.

Strategies:

  • Synthesize and evaluate existing data on commercial fishing activities known to, or having the potential to, impact survival and recovery.
  • Synthesize and evaluate existing data on offshore development activities known to, or having the potential to, impact survival and recovery.
  • Identify and understand the level of threat to leatherback turtles from marine debris and pollution.
  • Identify and understand other activities that may pose a threat to leatherback turtles (e.g. vessel interactions, military activities).

Objective 2: Understanding Leatherback Turtle Life History Characteristics. Support research and monitoring that will fill knowledge gaps concerning general organismal traits of leatherback turtles in Atlantic Canadian waters.

Rationale: The current state of knowledge about the basic biology and ecology of leatherback turtles in Atlantic Canadian waters is poor. More understanding is required for recovery efforts to be most effective.

Strategies:

  • Synthesize existing knowledge from research and monitoring activities undertaken regarding leatherback turtles.
  • Support research on basic knowledge gaps identified from (a) including, but not limited to, foraging ecology, diving behaviour, life history, distribution, and demographics.

Objective 3: Habitat Identification and Protection. Take steps to identify and protect habitat utilized by leatherback turtles in Atlantic Canadian waters.

Rationale: The lack of information about the biology and ecology of leatherback turtles is paralleled by what is not known of their habitat requirements, especially in Atlantic Canada. The following strategies will attempt to acquire further information about habitat so that it may be protected in the future. A schedule of studies regarding critical habitat identification can be found in Appendix B.

Strategies:

  • Undertake research to identify habitat use by leatherback turtles in Atlantic Canada.
  • Assess the distribution and abundance of leatherback turtle prey (and/or develop oceanographic proxies for turtle prey that can be assessed using remote sensing or sampling).
  • Assess the extent that critical habitat exists in Atlantic Canadian waters.
  • Assess and evaluate tools for habitat protection.

Objective 4: Risk Reduction. Minimize risk of harm to leatherback turtles from anthropogenic activities under Canadian jurisdiction.

Rationale: Once threats and risks have been identified (Objective 1), it will be necessary to develop activities to mitigate those threats. Lack of full knowledge or understanding of threats should not preclude proactive work to reduce risk to the turtles. Many mitigation activities, including stewardship, will be developed based on outcomes of research activities and threats identified in the above Objectives.

Strategies:

  • Implement, when practical, mitigation measures to minimize human-induced mortality.
  • Further develop measures that will reduce known harm from human activities (e.g. vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear, stranding response teams, entanglement and stranding response teams).
  • Utilize stewardship programmes developed under Objective 5 to engage stakeholders in the implementation of mitigation measures.

Objective 5: Education. Develop and implement education activities that support leatherback turtle recovery in Canada.

Rationale: Education is an important tool to further recovery efforts through both stakeholders and the general public. Specific documents and programmes should be developed, targeting a variety of audiences. This kind of education programme should result in improved marine environmental health overall.

Strategies:

  • Develop programmes for educating Canadians about leatherback turtle conservation.
  • Develop initiatives to educate and train stakeholders about their role in leatherback turtle conservation.

Objective 6: International Initiatives. Promote international initiatives contributing to the recovery of leatherback turtles.

Rationale: Canada has the opportunity to play a role in conservation of leatherback turtles throughout their range. A variety of Canadian organizations and agencies can influence activities in other countries, ultimately contributing to improvements in the conservation status of the species throughout its range.

Strategies:

  • Investigate options for Canadian participation in and promotion of international agreements and conventions that promote leatherback turtle protection and recovery.
  • Collaborate with U.S. agencies, other range nations, and international bodies, on leatherback turtle conservation initiatives, when possible.

4.4. Performance Indicators

Measurable performance indicators will be a critical component of the recovery action plan for the Atlantic leatherback turtle to gauge the extent that recovery activities are successful in contributing to the stated recovery goal for the species. For the strategies identified under each of the six recovery objectives in this recovery strategy, a set of progress indicators should be devised. At this stage, many of the indicators will reflect the current lack of knowledge about leatherback turtles, and will be related to research activities. During regular or scheduled intervals when the recovery strategy and action plan will be reviewed, progress indicators should be revised to reflect increasing knowledge. Indicators outlined in table 2 therefore are preliminary, represent our current thinking and subject to change as recovery actions are implemented.

Table 2. List of general indicators of progress to assist in determining the extent that recovery is being achieved.
Each set of indicators corresponds to a specific recovery objective.
Recovery ObjectiveIndicators of Progress
Understanding Threats
  • Potential/known interactions of leatherback turtles and fishing industry activities identified and documented.
  • Post-release survivorship determined.
  • Potential biological removal limit assessed.
  • Potential/known threats of offshore development activities on leatherback turtles identified and documented.
  • Report produced on human activities known to, or having the potential to, threaten leatherbacks in Atlantic Canada, with recommendations for actions.
Research
  • Populations frequenting Atlantic Canadian waters identified.
  • Historic and current sightings compiled and organized in a centralized database.
  • Knowledge from research and monitoring activities compiled in a comprehensive, living, reference document that is regularly updated and accessible to a broad range of user groups.
  • Research initiated on foraging ecology, movements and behaviour of leatherbacks in Canadian waters.
  • Research initiated on the oceanographic correlates that relate to the spatial/temporal distribution of leatherbacks in Canadian waters.
  • Survey programme established to develop indices of abundance (e.g., long term in-water population trends in northwest Atlantic waters).
Habitat Identification and  Protection
  • Critical and/or important habitat in Atlantic Canada identified to the extent possible.
  • Tools for habitat protection assessed and evaluated.
  • Draft plan for protection of critical habitat in Atlantic Canada developed.
Threat Mitigation and Risk Reduction
  • Mitigation measures developed to reduce known harm from human activities.
  • Recovery and emergency response procedures implemented, along with specific threat reduction measures.
  • Programmes developed to engage stakeholders in the implementation of mitigation measures.
Education and Outreach
  • Information on leatherbacks produced and distributed to federal and provincial government departments
  • Public awareness materials produced and distributed, including but not limited to briefing kits, web resources, brochures.
  • Initiatives developed to educate and train stakeholders about their role in leatherback turtle conservation (e.g. continuation of fishers outreach/research via NS Leatherback Turtle Working Group).
International Initiatives
  • Collaboration with other nations on leatherback turtle conservation initiatives.