Here are the results for our Turtle Protection season that ran from October 2015 to March 2016 inclusive.
The turtle protection team patrols an area covering 10 km of beach close to the villages of Dzita and Dzita Agdbledomi in the Volta Region of Ghana where Meet Me There African Home lodge is located. The team was make up of one co-ordinator, two team leaders, and 7 turtle guards.
The team patrols at night when the turtles emerge from the sea and climb onto the beach to lay their eggs. The team knows when the turtles will come ashore, times mostly dictated by the tides, and by the light of the moon.
Once the turtles have laid their eggs the team ensure that they get safely back to the sea. They then dig up the eggs and carefully relocate them to a safe stretch of beach close to Meet Me There. If there are no local people around we cover all traces of the nest, and all turtle tracks and leave the eggs to hatch. If we move the eggs to the safe beach in front of Meet Me there we then keep an eye on the nests and make sure the newly hatched turtles reach the sea.
Each turtle lays up to 150 eggs at a time.
Leatherback turtles are critically endangered.
The World Wildlife Fund reports that “the leatherback turtle has survived for more than a hundred million years, but is now facing extinction. Recent estimates of numbers show that this species is declining precipitously throughout its range”.
I believe that this project can have a considerable impact on turtle numbers.
For me if this species became extinct it would be an absolute tragedy for us all.
Olive Ridley turtles are listed as vulnerable.
The name for this sea turtle is tied to the colour of its shell—an olive green hue. They are the smallest of the sea turtles and currently the most abundant. Their vulnerable status comes from the fact that they nest in a very small number of places, and therefore any disturbance to even one nest beach could have huge repercussions on the entire population.
On the beach we protect we know that large numbers of Olive Ridley are poached off the beach ( they are small enough to carry ) and taken alive to local markets where they are sold, killed and eaten.
Season Results 2015 and 2016
Total turtles found = 56
Leatherback alive = 31
Leatherback killed =8
Olive Ridley alive =5
Olive Ridley killed =12
Eggs moved to safe hatching location and protected = 510
Eggs hidden and left where laid = estimated 1700
Results from 2004 to 2016
Since 2004 we have protected over 1000 nesting turtles, and have protected several thousand eggs.
- This effort is funded by the kind and generous support of a good friend. This has made a huge difference to us as now I can guarantee that I will be able to run the program without the very difficult scramble for funds that I have had to make in previous years. This has stabilised the program so that we can start the season confident and well prepared. The program provides well paid work for 10 local men who are very grateful for this work in an area where, apart from Meet Me There and Dream Big Ghana, there is no work.
- This year we had enough funds to work constructively with those in the local community who oppose our efforts. In the past a number of local men would poach the nesting turtles. They kill them and make turtle stew which they sell locally (this is totally illegal in Ghana, and if caught offenders face a 10 year prison sentence. Sadly the wildlife officers do not bother to enforce this ban). As you can imagine, they have not been happy with our efforts to protect these endangered animals. This year we have been able to pay a release fee to free any turtles that have been caught. We have also implemented a policy of visiting known poachers and buttering them up ( taking them out for a drink, etc ). We applied this policy from October onwards and it led to a steep decline in turtle killings.
- For the first time since we began protecting the turtles we have seen a significant decline in their numbers. In previous years we saw between 100 and 120 turtles a year. This year we recorded 56. Apart from the factors listed below we have little idea why this has happened. We are however seeing numbers of dead turtles which have died before they reach the beach. We think that these have become trapped in the nets of the illegal fishing vessels which pillage the fish along the coast of West Africa and cast overboard when the nets are pulled in.
- The pattern of turtle arrivals changed significantly this year. In the past they only started arriving in October. There may have been 1 or 2 in September. This year a large number arrived in September. Our protection team was not in action, and so these were mostly killed. We do not know the exact number. From now on we will start the protection season on the 1st September, and will not patrol in March as no turtles arrived in this month.
- Olive Ridley. Because these turtles are smaller than the leather back’s they can be carried off the beach. We are hearing of large numbers being taken live off the beach and sold in markets inland. This must cause considerable suffering to these animals. We are finding that it is very difficult to prevent this. This year we protected even less Olive Ridley than in previous years.
- We only have the funds to patrol a 10km stretch of the beach, but know that all the turtles are still being killed on stretches of coast that we do not patrol. If we could patrol a further 20 km of the coast that lies adjacent to our current 10km section we could protect a lot more turtles.