Mission Loggerhead: Projeto Biodiversiade Beach Patrols
In the dead of night, a camper van from a local excursion operator picked us up from our hotel and transported us across to Kite Beach, not too far from Santa Maria, on the island of Sal in the Cabo Verdean islands. The excitement and anticipation was clear, as I spoke to several guests also eager to witness one of the many wonders of life – Loggerhead turtle nesting. As we were driven to the site, I was fixated on estimating their size. Prior to the trip I had the privilege of scuba diving at the White Reef diving site, just off the coast, when a pair of mating loggerheads drifted by me and my buddies. In all honesty, the pair looked like a gargantuan drifting boulder; quite the oxymoron, when you think about it.
My attention then drifted to the project itself. Projeto Biodiversiade is a non-governmental organisation, active in encouraging sustainable development and environmental protection through community engagement. Being a proactive marine conservationist at home in the UK, I was keen to see the success of a conservation project abroad and speak to members of the project to understand what their key challenges are when carrying out their work. Most importantly for me, I wanted to see what I, if anything, could do to help with the cause.
The Cabo Verdean Islands are a key site for the turtle nesting season – being the 3rd largest breeding site in the world for loggerheads! The work that Projeto Biodiversite do is integral to the hatchlings survival and improving global conservation efforts. Loggerheads are currently one of the six out seven of turtle species enlisted as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, so conservation efforts like these are integral to the species survival.
On arrival at the site, our tour guide was incredibly informative and enthusiastic about the project, and had a warmth about him which radiated around the whole group. It was surprisingly chilly on the beach and astonishingly dark, but there was the comforting and tranquil sound of waves dragging further down the beach as the tide went out. After a brief talk on keeping all artificial lights off, speaking softly and moving slowly, we embarked on our mission to find a nesting Loggerhead. One thing I truly admired is that they put the needs of the turtles ahead of the tour group. A part of me was quite anxious before I participated in the beach tour that, as we were paying guests, we would be hoarded around the first turtle that arrived in the fear that people would complain if they did not see a turtle. It was refreshing that quite the opposite happened.
The first nesting female we encountered was indeed about to be swarmed around in a circus-like manner it seemed. My heart began beating faster and faster, as I was worried the female would be unsettled by the gatherings of humans around her. To my delight though, our tour guide informed us to hunch down as slowly as possible and gently retreat in the other direction, to allow the turtle her space. What a relief. As an ‘animal-person’, it was thrilling and reassuring to see that the natural activities of these animals were not being exploited and this was at the heart, an educative experience.
Whilst we pressed on along the golden sands of Kite Beach, it was difficult to see without the aid of our guide’s infra-red light, due to everyone being dressed in black. Eventually, after a fair distance had been travelled up the beach, I saw a shadowed, moonlit line heading straight up the beach – a turtle! At last! Slowly, we crouched down so not to disturb her, and our guide carefully approached to see if she’d entered her trance-like state yet, only then could we witness this miracle in action.
When the coast was clear, we huddled around the back of the sand dune. We’d stumbled across a young female, that had tried to nest a whopping six times. All I could think of was how exhausted she must be to shift her enormous weight down the beach. After all the effort of finding a suitable site, laying her eighty-or-so eggs, and then gradually shuffling herself back to the ocean, I was stunned to discover individuals can partake in nesting almost once a fortnight during breeding season! Although, when you think that only 1 in every 1000 hatchlings survives to reproductive age, I suppose it makes sense.
After she had finished laying her eggs, the female rested her eyes for a few moments before beginning to cover her clutch – almost like taking a nap. I couldn’t help but empathise with her after the admirable effort she had just gone through, and to think she’d be doing it all again next week! Impressive, to say the least. Once she had valiantly returned to her oceanic home, we began our journey back to the basecamp to return to our homes, full of wonderment and our minds buzzing with questions to ask our guide on our walk back.
For me, the enthusiasm and shear dedication that is so prominent in all the volunteers is truly inspiring. If you just come on this tour as it’s something you’d “quite like to do”, I can promise you that you will leave with a newfound love and respect for these creatures. With the help of the staff, who explain the answers to any questions you may have in an accessible manner, I really believe this organisation is achieving what it set out to do in a brilliant way.
Projeto Biodiversite is a fantastic non-governmental organisation with an inspiring and dedicate team of local rangers, field biologists and volunteers. Their aim of developing sustainable conservation projects, like the protection and conservation of the Loggerhead turtle, in the hope of inspiring future generations of conservationists is something which I think everyone should get behind. Their work has drastically reduced the number of turtles being lost to poaching, for example, by working with the local community. If you’re travelling to Sal, Cabo Verde I cannot recommend enough that you participate on one of these beach walks organised by an external tour operator, should you get the chance. Better yet, adopt a turtle from the turtle hatchery or, if you want to go the extra mile, volunteer for the 2018 nesting season.