Our Turtles, Our Future: Campaigning for Change with Nha Terra

“We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." Over the years this quote has been attributed to varying authors, from indigenous chiefs to environmental leaders. Regardless of its origin, its sentiment is a perennial reminder of our role as environmental stewards for the next generation. That same sentiment is the cornerstone of this year's Nha Terra Campaign, a nationwide effort in Cabo Verde to reduce the illegal consumption and trade of turtle meat and raise awareness in support of sea turtle protection. In addition to implementing active measures to halt the physical trade of turtle meat, the campaign aims to tap into the sense of pride Cape Verdeans exude when speaking about Nha Terra – a popular Creole phrase meaning “Our Land” – and harnessing it to inspire collective action to protect an internationally beloved species.

By reflecting on the hope that the future can bring, and the role we play in shaping it, the campaign aims to encourage a collective recognition of the sense of pride, possibility, and opportunity that can come from protecting marine turtles. This year, Project Biodiversity has a lead role in both shaping and delivering the message, with outreach tactics geared towards establishing a greater understanding of how sea turtles and Cape Verdeans are inextricably linked, from their shared history to their role in maintaining the health of the island’s ecosystems.

A Common History

The sea turtle is both a cultural and historical icon throughout Cabo Verde, featured everywhere from the country’s unique art to its national currency. With records of human-turtle interaction dating back to the archipelago’s discovery in the 15th century, marine turtles hold a firm place in the country’s history.

That place, however, hasn’t always been positive. In the early days of European explorers’ journeys between Africa, Europe and America, harvesting marine turtles was a common practice among the the transatlantic fleets. At that time, it served purely as a practice of subsistence since the meat - when dried and salted - kept well while traveling long distances across the ocean.

The practice of killing turtles for their meat remained long after the slave trade economy collapsed as the island’s new inhabitants adopted the explorers’ practices. Poaching reached a height in the early 1970s where the estimated number of nesting turtles killed for consumption hovered around 1,000 annually. As recently as 2007, scientific studies indicated similar numbers on the island of Boa Vista, with as much as 15% of the nesting population being killed. Though various legislation prohibiting poaching have been introduced over the years, it did little to deter poachers and so the hunting continued.

Nha Terra: Campaigning for Change

Since its inaugural launch in 2011, the Nha Terra campaign has been an avenue to inspire participation and collaboration in the protection of the Loggerhead sea turtle. Together, coordinating leaders have worked to reach a wide array of audiences across the country with its message - protecting turtles means protecting an important piece of Cape Verdean heritage. Armed with extensive communication and engagement strategies, campaign leaders work closely with the authorities to create a strong network of turtle-friendly restaurants, businesses, and local community groups that can both take a stand against illegal practices as well as help pass the campaign message to the general public.

This year Project Biodiversity, along with other sea turtle organisations throughout Cabo Verde, are also including perspectives from all over the archipelago as part of their messaging. On Sal, the project is working to infuse this year’s theme at every opportunity, through everything from ongoing features on national radio to a Nha Terra sponsored football tournament!

This year’s campaign also aims to spread the word about new legislation that expands the scope of protection measures for nesting turtles and their habitats. Approved in May of 2018, the new legislation protects not only the turtles themselves, but the nests and dune ecosystems that they need to thrive. It also places harsher penalties on selling, obtaining or consuming any turtle products.

Each year the campaign is spearheaded by TAOLA, the country’s national network of sea turtle and conservation NGOs. In 2017, TAOLA played a crucial role in bringing the need to update existing legislation to the attention of parliament and ministry of environment, resulting in approval of the new legislation by President Jorge Carlos Fonseca in May of 2018. Its name taken from the portuguese translation of Creole (from TArtaruga criOLA), TAOLA aims to bring the the idea “together we are stronger” into action.

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