Quang Tri is a coastal province in Vietnam where species biodiversity plays an important role in supporting a healthy ecosystem and valuable fisheries industry. Given such importance IUCN and Quang Tri Sub-Department of Fisheries Resources Protection (Sub-DFRP) have collaborated on marine turtle conservation and education for many years now. In 2011, education campaigns continued with activities in Gio Hai and Trung Giang Secondary Schools, culminating in final competitions on March 1-2, 2011.
About 750 pupils from these two schools took part in the competitions. Students displayed excellent knowledge of marine turtles and their living environment using creative drawings, speeches and poems. For example, a Grade 7 girl invented a story of a court under the ocean between a leatherback (the defendant), an ocean king (the judge) and a little girl (a witness). The leatherback is blamed for its own homelessness but argues all the sea grass beds and coral reefs are polluted with rubbish, so it always has to migrate in search of a cleaner place to live. The judge asked why there has been a significant decrease in the number of marine turtles in his kingdom?. The leatherback answered that many of its relatives have been caught and killed by fishermen, their eggs are sold, and some even died of eating plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfish. The king became angry with the little girl and asked: “Is it true? Why are human beings so rude to turtles?”. The girl answered that “yes, it’s what’s happening now but the situation will improve. Some of my friends are collecting rubbish along the coast to clean up the environment for marine turtles and people are returning turtles to the sea”.
Through such stories, the students showed an understanding of the alarming degradation in the marine turtles’ habitat, but also delivered a message of hope and a better future for marine turtles – “the ambassodors of our ocean”.
The main audience of this campaign was pupils so that they can increase their awareness of marine turtle conservation and so that they become advocates of marine turtle conservation in the community. By chance, we met a 16-year-old girl called Truong Thi Quyen who had graduated from Gio Hai and had come to watch her brothers. When we asked her questions about marine turtles, we were surprised when she answered every question correctly, even though she hadn’t attended any of the training sessions! When asked how she knew so much, she said, “My brothers gave me the brochure and reading material, and explained why we have to conserve marine turtles. We then gave it to my father, a local fisherman – who agreed that from now on our family will not catch marine turtles, sell or buy any products made from turtles, and will release any marine turtles we catch”.
There is still a lot of concern about the survival of Quang Tri’s marine turtles. The boom in shrimp farming and tourism along the coastline is disruptive for marine turtle reproduction. But it was also clear that this educational campaign has made a real difference. The students have learnt a lot and their positive attitude toward the protection of marine turtles was strong. And there is some evidence that this is reflected in the wider community.
“What is positive is that Quang Tri Sub-DARD has managed to develop good relations with the community and we have succeeded in changing attitudes toward marine sea turtles,” said Mr. Hoàng Đình Liên, Deputy Director, Quang Tri DARD.
“When turtles are caught or sighted the Department is now called”, he said.
The school children, the future leaders of Quang Tri have been given an early understanding of the importance of marine turtle protection and beach cleaning. IUCN hopes this momentum can be maintained and that sea turtles will once again return to breed on Quang Tri’s beaches.
This activity was made with the financial support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through project "Community based marine turtle nesting beach management in Vietnam, pilot site in Quang Tri Province".