We are very lucky to be on holiday at the moment on the Cape Verdean island of Sal, and on the first night, we were delighted to discover a turtle hatchery on the beach just outside our hotel.
Project Biodiversity is a local, non-profit organisation, responsible for the Sea Turtle Conservation Campaign on Sal. The volunteers work hard to not only ensure a safe nesting environment for Loggerhead sea turtles, but also to hugely increase the numbers of baby turtles that make it to the sea, through a sustained 24/7 campaign of support and protection.
Cape Verde has the 3rd biggest population of Loggerhead turtles (next to Florida and Oman), and the project is staffed by locals and volunteers from all over the world. There is a four month nesting period every year, and the teams work incredibly hard, not only maintaining the hatchery, but also patrolling the beach throughout the night to ensure the safety of the nests and deter poachers.
The Loggerhead turtle is listed as an endangered species and faces multiple threats to its ongoing survival. Poaching, (still a big problem in Cape Verde), and coastal building development resulting in the loss of natural habitat, are two of the threats that the Loggerhead faces, but probably even more dangerous, are the catastrophic problems caused by plastic and light pollution. We are all aware of the single use plastic bottles, bags and packaging that end up in the sea, causing the death of countless turtles every year, but I was unaware until this week of the light pollution issue affecting baby turtles.
When baby turtles hatch, they are drawn to the brightest horizon, usually the light that reflects from the sea. Unfortunately, in highly populated areas when there are brightly lit hotels, babies get confused and head in the wrong direction, never making it to the sea. Project Biodiversity works to avoid these issues by releasing turtles in remote areas, more on which later.
The female turtle comes onto the beach 4 or 5 times a season to deposit her eggs. Once on the beach, she finds a suitable spot and uses her back flippers to dig a hole. Having deposited her eggs she uses her front flippers to cover the hole. Unfortunately her desired nesting place may not be suitable if it is near a busy beach area and, on Cape Verde, teams of volunteers man the beach to not only keep away poachers, but also to locate and assess whether nests are safe and viable. If not, the volunteers will carefully move the eggs back to the hatchery, but not before meticulously taking measurements of the width and depth of the original hole to try and recreate as similar a nest as possible.
One female turtle lays 80 to 100 eggs per nest having usually returned to her birthplace to lay, and she will return to the beach 3 – 5 times in a season to lay further eggs. She doesn’t come back to see her little ones born, they are entirely at the mercy of the environment, predators, poachers and the sea.
About 70% of the eggs hatch at the project and hatchlings are given a helping hand by the volunteers when they are in difficulty. They are then transported in buckets to a remote area of the island for release into the sea. The volunteer we chatted to on the beach said he had been “dad” to 685 baby turtles scrambling towards the sea on his last night shift!
27,000 babies have been released so far this year but only 1 in 1000 will make it to adulthood. So that’s only 27 adult turtles this year.
Here is what you can do to help turtle conservation:
If you are coming to Sal, or indeed any of the Cape Verdean Islands, make sure you choose responsible and sustainable excursions. Do not buy any products derived from local wildlife and avoid driving on the dunes or beaches which are home to so many species. During the nesting season never use white light on the beaches and encourage others to deter if you encounter this.
Sadly there is a lot of plastic marine pollution on the Cape Verde islands and very little recycling. Please say no to straws in drinks in hotels and bars and do not use single use plastic items.
Project Biodiversity is entirely funded by donations and you can make a donation on their website:
Adopt either a single baby sea turtle or a whole nest – you don’t even need to visit the island to do it. Somekindof50 adopted a nest!
You can choose what you would like to put on the plaque marking your nest, and will receive photos and information by email when the hatching occurs. “All of the glory and none of the responsibility,” as one volunteer quipped!
But actually we ALL need to take responsibility for supporting such incredibly worthy causes as this, and trying to do something, anything, to stop or at least slow the destruction of such beautiful creatures, while it is still in our power to do so.
Certainly, I wish that my grandchildren and their children will get to witness the breathtaking and moving beauty of nature as the tiny little turtles hurry down the beach towards the sea and their chance of life ….instead of reading about them in a book recording yet another extinct species. ❤️