A large turtle lies in the dark on a beach in Cabo Verdean with flapping fins and sandy, narrowing eyes. The Atlantic spray smells temptingly close, but this female loggerhead carp is stranded on her back, helpless to her fate. Suddenly: a strange whirring, then the shuffling of approaching steps. Human hands turn her over and she can claw freely back into the safety of the sea.
This was the moment when a drone saved the life of a turtle. Beach surveillance, run by conservationists Adilson Ramos and Albert Taxonera from Projeto Biodiversidad (a local NGO on Sal Island), managed to deter a poacher who turned the turtle over – unfortunately a common way to get turtles on the spot to tire and ease later for meat to carry and kill. Discovered by the drone’s thermal imaging camera, the man appears orange-red with anger when he curses at the buzzing drone before he sets the turtle to the right and scurries away.
Loggerhead sea turtle, Copyright Paul Cools, from the Surfbirds Galleries
She was just one of many Loggerhead sea turtles that have successfully nested in the West African archipelago of Cabo Verde in a record season this year. In the 2000s, Boa Vista, the largest nesting island in the country, had fewer than 10,000 nests per year. The number rose to over 100,000 for all of Cabo Verde in 2018 over the past decade, with the official number for 2020 being over 170,000 nests. “Even considering the increase in data over the past few years, this year was really exceptional,” says Aurélien Garreau, Cabo Verde program manager, who works as part of the regional BirdLife implementation team for the CEPF *.
Loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta do not have it easy. They are critically endangered around the world, facing threats such as the development and disruption of their breeding beaches, bycatch in fisheries, illegal trade, pollution (including plastic and light), climate change, and poaching for their eggs and meat (in Cabo Verde). If the species is nationally endangered, it is usually done by poachers who want to illegally sell meat or consume it as a “treat”. With only one turtle chick in a thousand known to mature to adulthood, increasing nesting success is critical to saving the species. But patrol and scientific surveillance is not easy on hot Cabo Verdean beaches. Headstarting is also important – it’s about moving endangered nests into simple beach hatcheries that are protected from dogs, predators and floods so that young animals have the best possible chance of reaching the ocean.
Media attention was recently credited Lack of tourists for more success in nesting turtles in other parts of the world. While this may be a factor for some Cabo Verdean beaches, many are in more remote areas where COVID restrictions on group numbers and the usual support for international volunteer programs actually made it difficult for NGOs to patrol. The innovative use of a drone thus clearly had a positive effect on the work of Projeto Biodiversidad.Overall and despite COVIDIt is the consistency and dedication of the work of many local civil society organizations on and off the beach that sets it apart from this year’s record-breaking success. A total of five such NGOs from Cabo Verdean (BiosCV, Biosfera, Fundaçao Tartaruga, Projeto Biodiversidad and Projecto Vito) were supported by CEPF, with Biosfera also being supported by BirdLife directly via Hatch (for drone training currently being carried out and organizational development). . Year after year, they were on the beaches, chatting with fishermen over tea, getting attention in schools and tourist complexes, being interviewed on national television and meeting government officials. You may be wondering why the poacher turned the turtle over again. The work of these NGOs successfully convinced the Cabo Verdean government to pass a breakthrough law against turtle poaching with prison terms in 2018. This was fundamental to enforcement as the police even use NGO patrols for convictions.
But don’t let “NGOs versus locals” put you in the picture because that is far from the truth. Local people are heavily involved in beach patrols in marine reserves on Sal, Santa Luzia and Boa Vista, and the NGOs are developing opportunities for fishing communities such as ecotourism (host families, leadership) and sustainable fishing activities. “Thanks to the awareness and engagement work, the Cabo Verdean social vision of turtles has changed,” says Garreau, “to one of pride and its relationship to economic opportunity,” says Garreau. Loggerhead carp take over 20 years to reach maturity and return to the same beaches to nest. The immense efforts and selfless commitment of these NGOs to increase hatching success and community support today will hopefully pay off in the years to come.