Africa Wildlife

The people saving Cape Verde’s turtles

We take a look at the conservation efforts on Boavista, one of the most important locations for marine turtles.

Marine turtles are some of the most important species on these islands, and around 80–90% of the Cape Verde’s loggerhead turtle nesting takes place on Boavista. The number of nests fluctuates each year according to climatic factors such as water temperature. In 2009, over 20,000 nests were recorded on Boavista; two years later there were a mere 5,000. An average would be around 12,000–14,000.

Turtle conservation Cape Verde
© Project Biodiversity

The nesting season takes place primarily between June and October and researchers gather on Boavista to study the loggerhead turtles that nest at Ervatão Beach. (The most important beaches are on the east coast.) They want to understand the status, distribution and numbers of the turtles.

It’s a night job, and as soon as volunteers spot a turtle coming ashore they lie on the ground and crawl towards her. After she has laid her eggs and is on her way back to the sea, they put a chip in the turtle and ID attached with tags on the flippers. Turtles equipped with satellite transmitters send information about their migratory routes and feeding areas back to scientists. Meanwhile, hatchlings are counted, weighed and measured before being released into the sea.

Turtle hatchlings Cape Verde
© Project Biodiversity

A history of poor law enforcement and a lack of vigilance has allowed the threats to loggerheads to continue, despite the full protection afforded to all turtle species by the Cape Verde environmental legislation. But progress has been made, with the approval of the Marine Turtle National Conservation Plan and the establishment of TAOLA as the umbrella organisation for turtle protection being significant recent achievements.

Ana Liria Loza, President of CV Natura 2000, reports that they have had success in reducing the number of turtles killed for meat, at least according to the data they can collect from carcasses on the beaches. They are now turning some of their attention to the illegal ‘fishing’ of turtles, caught by boats even before they reach the shores. The effects of incidental catch (‘by-catch’) by industrial and artisanal fishing is awaiting further research and assessment. Data for that is harder to monitor than land-based slaughter.

Since 2008 another group, Turtle Foundation, has also become active on five beaches, concentrating on preventing the slaughter of the turtles as they nest. Patrols by international volunteers are made through the night on Canto, Boa Esperança, Norte and Lacação. A third NGO, Bios, is also now involved, covering João Barrosa and Cabo Verde 2000 looks after Ervatão and Porto Fereira. The growth of tourism is bringing increasing problems for the endangered loggerhead species through loss of habitat, light pollution and increasing numbers of cars, quad bikes and dune buggies driving on nesting beaches. With the developers on one side, and NGOs on the other, battle has well and truly been joined.