Sea turtles thrive despite our mistakes

Sea turtles face a number of natural threats to their survival, from the time they are developing in their eggs up until adulthood.

These threats include nest predators, beach erosion, severe storms, and terrestrial and marine predators. Despite these challenges, sea turtles have existed for over 100 million years, surviving a marine mass extinction, and even the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Sadly these events do not compare to the most recent threat to the natural world: humans.

Sea turtles have endured injuries from boat accidents, accidentally getting caught in fishing nets, from straws being sucked up their noses and plastic bags suffocating them after being mistaken for a jellyfish one of there favourite food. Sea turtles are also intentionally killed for their shell and their meat, and their nests are poached due to the demand for their eggs. Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered because of their gorgeous amber and yellow shell that are used to make jewelry, hair accessories, glasses, and other crafts. Consumption of sea turtles has traditional value in many cultures around the world, and is linked to spiritual and medicinal beliefs.

 Although six out of the seven species of sea turtles in the world is on the IUCN species at risk list (with the seventh species’s status unknown due to lack of data) these animals are exceptionally resilient. With a little help from concerned individuals, NGOs, governments, and local communities, the majority of sea turtle nesting colonies are estimated to be on the rise. Cape Verde is home to the world’s third largest nesting population of Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) sea turtles after the USA and Oman and the beaches of Boa Vista host the majority of these visiting females. The shallow coastal waters of Boa Vista are also home to many juvenile green sea turtles, that can be seen while swimming or sunbathing on the beach.

There are four organizations responsible for researching and conserving the nesting beaches of the island, three NGOs and one community run organization. Because of the efforts of these organizations and new regulations imposed by the government there are record numbers of female loggerheads(scientifically name Caretta caretta)that fill the beaches with their nests every summer. A vacation on Boa Vista is a great opportunity to witness the spectacle of the sea turtle nesting routine with an organized turtle watching excursion.

Boa Vista is an example for global sea turtle conservation due to the high level of inclusion of the local population both in research and in ecotourism. The NGOs employ a majority of Cape Verdean staff to patrol the beaches, and engage the local communities in environmental education activities and events for all ages. The locals participation in turtle watching tours also provides an economic incentive to conserve rather than consume these animals. There are many local guides that offer tours of turtle nesting beaches, however caution should be practiced when choosing a guide, as legally they are required to have permits to work in these protected areas. For this reason we advise you to book your excursion with licensed and insured tour operators.

 Despite all of the obstacles in their way, sea turtles continue to prove that they can thrive in any condition. They can go months without food by slowing down their metabolism, consecutive nesting seasons, and even change nesting beaches in response to stress. According to the researcher Camryn Allen, “… turtles, out of all the other species, might actually have a pretty good shot”.