Five species of sea turtle—the green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), loggerhead (Caretta caretta), and olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea)—feed in the coastal waters of India, nest on the mainland and island beaches, and are an important component of India's natural and sociocultural heritage. Sea turtles spend most of their life cycle at sea, so structured studies of the biology of nonnesting populations are challenging. However, fishers' ecological knowledge (FEK) could indicate sea turtle distribution, abundance, and population trends. Structured interviews with 93 male fishers at Sagareshwar Beach, Vengurla, in the Sindhudurg District of Maharashtra revealed observations of all 5 sea turtle species in local waters. Importantly, this was the first known record of loggerhead turtles for the Sindhudurg District of the state coastline and added to infrequent records of leatherback turtles over the previous 20 yrs. Observations were more common at a time when adult turtles are likely to be courting and mating, although this behavior was not observed. Fishers did not contribute ecological knowledge about sea turtle distribution from the waters they fished, potentially because of the method used to collect information on maps or reluctance to indicate areas fished. Estimates of abundance were widely disparate, but perceived decreases in the size of local populations were common among respondents. Outcomes of our study suggest that the FEK of small-scale coastal fishers operating in even a small area is of value in identifying potential areas for focused investigations on in-water populations of sea turtles.
fishers' ecological knowledge