Report from the Turtle Protection Team in 2017/2018

This year we had a great season. Leatherbacks reappeared in good numbers, and the wildlife department intervened to support us for the first time in many years. Their support made a considerable difference and saved the lives of many turtles.

This year we came into contact with 93 turtles. This is so much better than the 57 turtles we encountered last year.

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From September to November we had our normal problem of half the turtles appearing on the beach to lay their eggs being killed. In early December the Ghanaian government declared war on all people who kill turtles. Our local wildlife officer, Karim, came to join the turtle team and cautioned everyone locally who is know to be killing turtles. He advised them that if they killed turtles again they would be prosecuted and face up to 10 years in prison.

This had an immediate effect so that the death rates dropped dramatically. I will continue to work with Karim and the wildlife department to encourage them to continue their work locally.

These are the season’s results:

Olive Ridley

19 turtles protected

12 known to be killed

Leatherback

47 protected

14 known to be killed

Hawksbill

1 protected (this is the first time this species of turtle has appeared on the coast).

We protected and hid a number of nests, and relocated and protected several hundred eggs. We numbers of baby turtles hatch and we made sure these got into the sea. 12799260_1158667147486402_3459150704344385969_n

This year we found that some of the turtles that were dead seemed to have died from eating plastic.

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Report from The Turtle Protection Team for The Egg Laying Season 2015 to 2016

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.

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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.

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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

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Results from 2004 to 2016

 

Since 2004 we have protected over 1000 nesting turtles, and have protected several thousand eggs.

 

Successes

 

  • 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.

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Challenges

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Spare Phone or Camera?

Hi Everyone,

I am starting my annual Turtle Protection Program on the coast of Ghana. As with previous years, we will work to protect female turtles as they come ashore to lay their eggs.100_1208

The team desperately need mobile phones ( so they can keep in touch with each other when patrolling, and so they can call for help, with a camera if possible ) and digital cameras with a memory card, so they can record turtle sightings, egg laying, etc.

So , if you have a digital camera, ( with a memory card ), or phone you are not using, then please send them to us so we can use them to protect these beautiful animals.

Please email me at hpnewton@hotmail.co.uk and I will email you the postal address.

Without this protection these turtles will definitely be killed as they try to lay their eggs. As you can see below, despite this protection significant numbers of turtles were killed last year. We can only keep trying and educating, so that things will hopefully get better year on year.

Total turtles found 2013 to 2014 season = 120

Leatherback alive = 63

Leatherback killed =19

Olive Ridley alive =31

Olive Ridley killed =7
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I have someone going out to Ghana who can take these for me in 2 weeks, so if you could get them to me asap that would be great. Thank you . x

Many thanks one and all x Hugh Newton.

Ocean Grabbing

This is a very interesting article. In African fishing communities local people are totally dependent on access to the ocean, and on being able to catch a sustainable number of fish once they get there.

At Meet Me There, while we have a seafront property, we have been very careful to make sure we do not block or disrupt off shore fishing by local fishermen.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA However, I have seen that, in other areas large hotels seal off ‘their’ patch of beach so local people, and local fishermen, no longer have access to it. This means that land that was once ‘common’ is removed from the local population and put in the hands of commercial interests.

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2598963/ocean_grabbing_a_new_wave_of_21st_century_enclosures.html

As well as this we have noticed that the catches made off the beaches are falling dramatically. As far as we know this is due to huge commercial fishing fleets operating just off shore which are scooping everything out of the sea. They destroy local fishing grounds and then move on. In this way they destroy the livelihood of fishing communities who could always previously rely on the sea as a food and sustenance.  M170

BBC News Saving the Giant Turtle

This article by the BBC states that two thirds of the turtles that appear on the beaches are killed.

It shows a picture of some men dragging a leatherback off the beach with a tractor.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/843082.stm

For me this is very upsetting, and this approach is one we constantly face when we try to protect these animals.

The article states that 6 new sanctuaries are being set up along the coast.

I am trying to set up a sanctuary along a 20 km stretch of coast in the Volta region of Ghana.

If you would like to help save these turtles, please have a look at the website and get in touch with me.

I need your help! I am struggling to do this on my own.

Jellyfish Explosion

Leatherback turtles, which weigh up to 650 kilograms, can eat up to 70% of their body weight in a day. That is a huge amount of jellyfish. As the link below shows, there has been an explosion of the jellyfish population in most of the world’s oceans. Protecting turtles also protects fish.

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http://thinkprogress.org/

“Sometimes we’ll catch 4,000 or 5,000 pounds of jellyfish. They spray all around. We get stung,” fisherman Ryan Rogers.

We are finding the same thing off the coast of Ghana. Local fishing nets are pulling in increasing numbers of jellyfish. We highlight this as part of our education effort to encourage people not to kill the turtles. People here can see the direct impact that a jellyfish explosion has on their catch. Local people depend on the fishing, and so keeping turtles alive also keeps down the populations of jellyfish. Jellyfish eat small and baby fish, so have a dramatic effect on the fish population.