Living in our seas for 150 million years: 5 good reasons to protect marine turtles

Of the 8 species of marine turtles encountered in the world’s seas, 5 are regularly monitored in West African waters, including only 2 that reproduce in great numbers. The archipelago of Cabo Verde, especially Boa Vista Island, is a nesting place for 2,000 to 3,000 loggerhead turtles. Every year, 7,000 to 35,000 egg clutches are reported in Guinea-Bissau, in the Bijagos archipelago.

Significant efforts are being deployed by PRCM partners in this regard, but to what avail?

First, marine turtles are part of our culture and collective imagination. These are greatly fabulous animals that swim out of the water at night and painfully move on the beaches in search for a nesting place, before returning into the world of silence to travel thousands of kilometres through the oceans. In the cosmogony of communities living by the sea, marine turtles symbolise fertility and sexual potency (whereby dried penises are used as amulets) and have specific medicinal properties, with their fat used to treat rheumatism.

Marine turtles represent a common heritage in our sub-region. Indeed, satellite beacons have shown that, after laying their eggs, loggerhead turtles in Cabo Verde migrate off the coast from Mauritania to Guinea. Green turtles in the Bijagos move along the coast to Gambia, Senegal and Mauritania where they gain strength by feeding themselves on seabed grass in the Banc d’Arguin Park. As they move across our sub-region’s marine waters, it is our collective responsibility to preserve them.

Turtles contribute to the well-being of our marine environment. A number of turtle species feed on seaweed and thereby help to prevent this plant from becoming invasive, a situation that is increasingly likely to happen with oceanic warming, while others eat jellyfishes, whose population also tends to proliferate most probably as a result of a decrease in the numbers of small pelagics which, just like jellyfishes, also feed on plankton.

Holding a fascination in human beings, marine turtles provide a valuable component for the development of ecotourism. Visitors often travel long distances to come and enjoy the fabulous spectacle of these animals that have survived through the ages coming out of the sea to go and lay their eggs up the beaches.

Finally, conservation efforts targeting turtles are worth it as all species of marine turtles are vulnerable or in danger of extinction. As a matter of fact, in their juvenile stage, turtles suffer from predation by fishes, birds, crabs or varans, in addition to being exposed to fishing catches, marine pollution, including in particular plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfishes and which entail intestinal occlusions, beach erosion or sand removal for construction purposes and shore hardening to mention a few. Climate change effects must also be singled out. Indeed, the gender of offspring at birth is determined by the sand temperature, knowing that the hotter the temperatures the greater the chances for female offspring at birth. Inversely, sea-level rises imply a reduction in beach areas available for egg-laying. Taken together, all these factors represent a threat to turtle populations.

PRCM partners take action:

The vast majority of RAMPAO’s marine protected areas do take into consideration the protection of marine turtles.

Several national NGOs are also active in the area of turtle conservation, including Village des Tortues au Sénégal; Nature Mauritanie; Biosfera, Amigos do Calhau; Fundaçao Tartaruga or Nature 2000 in Cabo Verde; Guinée Econologie in Guinea,

Public agencies, such as DPN in Senegal, IBAP in Guinea Bissau, INDP in Cabo Verde, in charge of biodiversity in all PRCM member countries have committed in various ways to the conservation of marine turtles, depending on the specific vocation of their respective areas.

CP : PRCM/Hellio Van ingen