Impacto do turismo / endangered species

Mail & Guardian (April 9) "People getting eaten by wild animals is only one side of the picture in post-war Mozambique — the tourist boom is threatening a number of endangered marine species with local extinction.

South African conservation organisations working in Mozambique are particularly worried about sea turtles and dugongs, large grey mammals which used to be called mermaids. "
Helena Motta, director of the WWF in Mozambique, said while tourism had contributed to the turnaround of the economy, more local people were turning to poaching protected species because some tourists paid money for their products.

The WWF had embarked on a nationwide campaign to curb the sale of sea turtle shells in curio shops and stalls. Five of the world’s seven types of sea turtles are found along the Mozambican coastline.

“We are working on a national programme to discourage the sale of sea turtle shells in order to discourage the poaching of the species, which is threatened with extinction,” she said. “The government recently warned people not to sell the shells.”

Under Mozambican legislation it is illegal to buy marine products as souvenirs or for art collections, but poor enforcement has resulted in an escalation of poaching.

The WWF recently launched a “Wanted Alive” programme to educate school children about the dangers to marine species. It includes an awareness campaign aimed at conserving the beaches where turtles lay their eggs.

Dugongs — large, slow-moving mammals which scientists believe inspired the myth of mermaids — are usually found in shallow seawaters. They surface only to breathe and never come on to land.

Females give birth underwater to a single calf at three- to seven-year intervals, and the species is in danger of disappearing from the planet. Threats include hunting, entanglement in fishing nets, destruction of the sea-grass meadows they feed on and collisions with boats.

Controversy recently emerged over the number of dugongs left in Mozambique. Some South African-based conservationists said they had declined from about 200 in 1998 to lower than 27; others said the present number was closer to 100.

The WWF and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s marine and coastal working group are raising awareness about the dangers to these marine species caused by long-line fishing by illegal trawlers that frequent the vast Mozambican coastline.

Motta said policing of the coastline had improved since navy officials set up a base at Sitone on Bazaruto Island National Park. Donors had helped marine park rangers in their anti-poaching efforts by funding three patrol boats. The WWF was busy establishing a database of sea turtles in the Bazaruto park, she added. More than 95 sea turtles had been tagged since the project started in 2004.

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