How Local Ocean Conservation are protecting Kenya's Sea Turtles for a Wider Cause
Under the cover of darkness, a huge green turtle emerges from the surf and begins to haul her colossal weight up the beach. This is no small feat , she's heavy, approximately 140kgs, and on dry land, without the water to support her, the weight of her carapace is pressing do down on her. She's here to do an important job; to lay a nest and she needs to ﬁnd a safe place to deposit her eggs. Fortunately, this prospective mother has emerged on a dark, quiet , natural beach free from sea walls, beach beds and other structures that prevent her from making her way above the high-water mark where her eggs need to be hidden to incubate.
Waiting quietly in the darkness are Local Ocean Conservation's (LOC's) Beach and Nest Monitors, Newton and Samuel. They will watch over this nesting female until she has safely returned to the ocean, which could take as long as three hours. The presence of the Monitors is important as a turtle of this size is a bountiful prize for poachers and out of the water like this, she's slow and vulnerable. Despite sea turtles being protected under Kenyan law, some people still eat the meat and eggs due to the belief that they are aphrodisiacs and that the oil has medicinal properties capable of curing a multitude of ailments.
The turtle searches for the perfect spot t o make her nest. She starts to throw sand around with her massive front ﬂippers, digging a body pit in which she nestles her huge frame down
to. Next, she carefully uses her rear ﬂippers t o dig an almost perfectly cylindrical hole 50cm down into the sand and begins to lay her eggs, between 100 and 150 of them. While she lays her eggs, she enters a trance like state and Newton and Samuel can get to work, measuring her carapace and checking if she has an identiﬁcation tag.
This is a green turtle, an endangered species worldwide and one of the ﬁve species of sea turtles found in Kenyan waters, all of which are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threat ened Species. Loggerhead and olive ridley sea turtles are considered vulnerable whilst hawksbill and leather back turtles in this region are critically endangered. So why are these magniﬁcent creatures, who have been on the planet since the time of the dinosaurs, facing the threat of extinction ? Well, the short answer is, because of humans and the way we use our planet in a completely diﬀerent way than ever before. This nesting female will be at least 20 years old and t o get to this age she's had to navigate her way through the maze of threats that humanity have created for her including ﬁshing gear, pollution, climate change, sea level rise and collapsing ecosystems. It is estimated that only 1 in a 1000 eggs laid will survive to adulthood and even if this turtle has survived these odds, our encroachment of beaches through development, light and noise mean that she may not be able to even lay her eggs to repopulate her species.
Whilst Newton and Samuel's night time patrols work to ensure her safety and protect her nest after she's returned to the ocean,there is clearly more to be done if we are not to lose sea turtles from the planet forever. Local Ocean Conservation, based in Watamu, have been working tirelessly since 1997 to stop this from happening. The organisation recognises sea turtles as a ﬂagship species for ocean health and that through protecting these charismatic animals, the wider marine environment and humanity can also beneﬁt. LOC's work combines practical conservation with community outreach and education in order to achieve its goal of encouraging people to love their own local ocean and protect its valuable resources for the future.
The organisation operates a Sea Turtle Bay catch Release Programme working with local ﬁshermen to prevent the mortalities of turtles which are accidentally caught in artisanal
ﬁshing gear. Over 17,000 turtle rescues have been conducted through this programme so far. There is also a Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Centre at LOC's headquarters which has treated
over 450 sick or injured turtles. LOC's work with the local community is extensive and the organisation works closely with 28 local schools as well as 15 local community groups. This helps to encourage participation in conservation and reduce pressure on dwindling marine resources by increasing understanding of the importance of the marine environment and ﬁnding sustainable alternative income generating projects such as bee keeping, farming and tree nurseries. This holistic approach to protecting our marine environment is designed to bring about lasting change that will beneﬁt people, sea turtles and the marine environment alike.
As the sea turtle meticulously covers her eggs and heads back to the waves, Newton and Samuel become the guardians of her nest, along with the others that have already been laid. She will return in two weeks to lay another nest. She'll lay up to 6 nests this season and then Newton and Samuel may not see her again for several years, if she can make her way back. The odds are stacked against her hatchlings too but hopefully with LOC's work and if everyone takes a small part in making the ocean less of a dangerous place for these tiny hatchlings, some of them will reach adulthood and the females will eventually ﬁnd their way back to Watamu in years to come and lay their own nests.