Saving Cape Verde's Loggerheads

Updated on Apr 21, 2017 by Jacquie Cozens

Blog > Saving Cape Verde's Loggerheads

Jacquie Cozens moved to Cape Verde to make a film but quickly became involved in the battle to save Loggerheads from extinction.

Please note, Turtle SOS are no longer running in Cape Verde, however, other turtles conservation projects are in place to help protect the animals, and excursions are still available to watch the turtles on the island of Boa Vista. 

“When I first came to Cape Verde in 2006 I had no idea that it is the third most important place in the world for nesting Loggerhead turtles, I soon learned not only all about the turtles, but about how threatened they are and how quickly they could become extinct without protection. 

Turtles are among the most endangered marine animals and for millennia they have been coming to these tiny islands. Only the Loggerheads, the third largest species of marine turtle, nest on the long sandy beaches of Sal, Boa Vista and Maio and smaller beaches on all other islands, but they are one of five species that are around Cape Verde. The others, which are all seen in the water, are Leatherback, Olive Ridley, Hawksbill and Green.

Like all turtles, the Loggerheads return to their place of birth to mate and nest after they become mature at around 25-30 years of age. When not nesting they spend the intervening years in their feeding grounds off the west coast of Africa.  During the summer the females may nest up to seven times every two weeks and they lay an average of 80-100 eggs each time. The nests take around 51-60 days to incubate and the sex of the baby turtles is dependent on the temperature inside the nest during this period. 

We founded Turtle SOS Cabo Verde, a non-profit association, in 2008 to combat the very real danger of extinction on Sal due to the hunting of females for their meat. Walking on the beaches the first six months we were here, we saw nothing but dead turtles - brutally slaughtered every night. Happily though, in the first year of the project night-time patrols decreased the number of turtles killed by 72%.

Now, although this problem is by no means solved, the incidence of hunting is decreasing as patrols are undertaken on more and more beaches. As part of the protection strategy we also offer visitors the chance to participate by going on a turtle walk. Guests accompany Turtle SOS Rangers on the beaches and this forms an important part of the protection of the turtles, as well as generating revenue that goes directly into conservation and educational activities. During the walk guests not only have the chance to view the nesting turtles but also to learn more about this fascinating reptile. For a developing country to be able to offer this natural marvel is fantastic and for many visitors it is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream to watch a meter long turtle crawl out of the sea and lay her eggs and the country’s reputation as a turtle-watching destination is growing quickly. Find out more about turtle watching excursions here.

The Loggerheads nest between June and October and hatchlings are born from mid-August to December and in 2012 we had an incredible number of nests - over 2,600 - double the amount ever recorded in one season! It was a really busy season for all the Caboverdean staff and international volunteers. We can’t take all the credit though, since Cape Verde’s Loggerheads nest every two to three years and this increase in numbers is the result of natural fluctuations that are not understood fully.

Sadly tourism can often have a negative as well as a positive impact. While tourism is crucial to funding our conservation activities, loss of habitat due to the development of resorts is a serious issue. Turtles prefer quiet, dark beaches and nest in the first 80 meters of the beach so hotels should be built further back than this with a minimum amount of lighting or the females may be deterred from coming out of the sea. Over the last few years we have seen a big decline in nesting on the west coast of Sal.

The other major impact is on hatchlings - when they are born they will head towards the brightest light and often go inland towards the hotels instead of to the sea. Fortunately by making a few simple changes such as installing red filters or placing lights so they face in towards buildings and don’t shine on the beach, developers and hotel management can minimise the impact. Happily some of the major hotels and resorts implement these mitigation measures during the nesting season.

For the nests in areas where the light pollution is too great, we relocate the eggs to an enclosed hatchery area.  The nests are moved as soon after they have been laid as possible and the original egg chamber dimensions are replicated exactly. The nests are then left to incubate under completely natural conditions and during the hatching season (mid-August to December), SOS Rangers sleep in the hatchery and release the new baby turtles into the sea as soon as they are born. During this time visitors to the hatchery have the opportunity to not only see turtles being born but to sometimes witness them going into the sea as they start their incredible journey.

In 2012 SOS ​Tartarugas released around 18,000 turtles from the hatchery.  It may seem like a lot but sadly they face so many threats that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will reach maturity. That’s why it is so important to protect adult turtles and to safeguard as many endangered nests as possible. We all feel very proud to be able to do this work and with the help and generosity of visitors to the islands we hope that turtles will remain a part of Cape Verde’s fascinating natural heritage."

 

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Posted in Guest Authors | Tagged Beaches, Wildlife

 

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