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ATN: Africa Regional Meeting in Crete

Manjula Tiwari

This was an exciting and unusual year for Africa at the 26th Annual Sea Turtle Symposium in Crete, Greece (3-8 April 2006). Given the proximity of Greece to the African continent, there was an extra special effort to get sea turtle researchers from the east-west-north-south corners of Africa to this Symposium. Generous funding from the International Sea Turtle Society’s Travel Grants, the Marine Conservation Society, UK, and the Chelonian Research Institute (Peter Pritchard) & Rob Truland made it possible for 27 researchers from 19 countries to attend. Some came on their own steam, and we had representation from 22 African countries (including some offshore island groups). All in all there were approximately 60 attendees and presenters from 30 countries. Behind the scenes, Rebekah Postupak from Rob Truland’s group worked with admirable cheerfulness on some difficult itineraries and air and hotel bookings. There were some knuckle-biting moments with visas and tickets, but they passed relatively quickly…

Meanwhile, Sue Ranger, Angela Formia, and I chatted and plotted over email for several months to develop a program for this one-day Africa Regional Meeting. Sue’s steady efforts kept us on-track whenever Angela and I rushed about the planet on other business, and finally after numerous emails and drafts a program slowly took shape.

The session started on 4 April at 8.30 am with people trickling in and loading their presentations on Sue’s laptop, which she generously volunteered for the occasion.

The morning opened with welcoming remarks from Jacques Fretey from IUCN-France and Programme KUDU after which Bernard Oosting from BIOTOPIC presented him a book called Kudu, La Tortue Luth, in recognition of his efforts in West Africa.

The first part of the regional meeting was spent on short country/project updates from:
1) East Africa: Kenya (Steven Trott), Tanzania (Jairos Mahenge), Mozambique (Alice Costa) and South Africa (Ronel Nel)

2) Mediterranean: Overview and Libya (Abdulmaula Hamza), Morocco (Wafae Benhardouze), Tunisia (Bradai Mohamed Nejmeddine), Egypt (Hesham Mostafa).

3) West Africa: Overview and Kudu/PROTOMAC (Jacques Fretey and Alain Gibudi), Angola (Tamar Ron), Gabon (Solange Ngouessono), Equatorial Guinea (Heidi Rader), Cameroon (Hyacinthe Angoni), Nigeria (Boluwaji Solarin), Benin (Josea Dossou-Bodjrenou), Togo (Gabriel Segniagbeto), Ghana (Richard Adjei), Guinea (Soumah M’mah), Senegal (Mamdou Diallo and Alassane Dieng), Cape Verde (Ana Liria Loza), and Sao Tome and Principe (Jacques Fretey).

In the afternoon, we moved into some key topics and research areas.

The first topic focused on fisheries issues. The session was opened by Rogerio Ferreira who highlighted the importance of looking at sea turtle bycatch in the fisheries and presented a case study from the Azores.

Maria Honig described their bycatch work in the longline fisheries of South Africa. Imed Jribi discussed sea turtle interactions with longlines in Tunisia. Steven Trott gave a quick overview of their bycatch release program in Kenya.

Gabriela Bianchi from the FAO provided details on the bycatch reduction workshop being organized in Zanzibar.

A very effective demonstration of how TEDs work was given by Boluwaji Solarin of Nigeria.

Finally, Rebecca Lewison talked about Project GLOBAL (Global Bycatch Assessment of Long-Lived Species). These speakers were then asked to chair a panel and answer questions from the audience.

Our next topic covered Community-Based Conservation where Freya St. John presented a case study from Tanzania

and Jacques Fretey described a community project in Cameroon.

Under the theme “Harnessing Technology,” Michael Coyne gave an overview of the excellent resources available on www.seaturtle.org. We encourage everyone to visit this website and explore all that it has to offer and contribute whenever possible.

Angela Formia highlighted the importance of genetic work and described her work with green turtles in west and central Africa. Matthew Witt described the usefulness and importance of satellite telemetry work and Lucy Hawkes presented a case study on the migratory movements of loggerheads from Cape Verde. Jacques Fretey added a few words about his satellite tracking project in Gabon.

The meeting ended with video presentations from Libya (Abdulmaula Hamza) Tanzania (Freya St. John), the Nigerian TED workshop (Boluwaji Solarin), Benin (Josea Dossou-Bodjrenou), and SW Indian Ocean (Jerome Bourjea). The music and photography let us all relax after a long day.

Presentations were in English and French and the provisions for simultaneous translation were key to the success of the meeting--our thanks to the translators who kept up with us indefatigably through this long day. Funding for translation came from UNEP/MAP.

And of course, we owe a big "thank you" to Dimitris Maragritoulis and Thanos Belalidis for finding funds, arranging accommodation and coffee breaks, handling the logistics, and helping make it all happen! Angela Formia handled and distributed the Travel Grants, which was no easy task!

Additionally, Sue Ranger designed and printed T-Shirts for this event, which were a huge success and will be advertised on many chests around the globe:

Eugenia Naro, Phil Allman, and Nicole Fretey helped rake in the profits from these T-shirts by manning the sales table. Money from T-shirt sales will go into next year's Africa Travel Grant.

And Peter Richardson was our tireless timekeeper who maintained all speakers within their allotted time by yelling "one minute left"; he also helped with numerous details of organizing this Africa Regional Meeting.

Finally, this meeting required bringing together researchers from the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean corners of Africa, thereby overlapping with the Mediterranean (Paolo Casale) and Indian Ocean (Doug Hykle) regional meetings at the Symposium. However, Paolo and Doug generously accommodated our program and overlap in participants.

Despite a very long and tightly-packed day with few coffee breaks, the energy and enthusiasm shown by the participants and attendees were very rewarding. Truly, it was an inspiring event!

Photos by M.Godfrey, S.Ranger & M.Tiwari
PS: My apologies to those people for whom I did not have a photograph.
PPS: To contact any of the speakers, please refer to the seaturtle.org directory or send an email to A.Formia (aformia@seaturtle.org).