Saving Turtles in Watamu, Kenya

Now more than ever I have tried to approach my travels with a lot more conscious. With the current state of the environment and wildlife, understanding your surroundings is so important. Plus, having that hands on experience can only enhance your travels!

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Releasing a critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle back into the wild.

Watamu is an exquisite little village on the Kenyan coast. It is nestled between a lush tropical forest and pristine turquoise beaches. Given this unique position, this piece of paradise has been declared a Marine National Park and Reserve and truly has it all. From nesting turtles, to an array of coral gardens, this park is part of a complex marine and tidal system rich in diverse land and marine life. This ecosystem is one of the most impressive in Africa.

Sadly, like most natural wonders, Watamu is under constant pressure from a range of human related threats. Turtles for centuries have been slaughtered to make sunglass frames and ornaments. Their meat is eaten as delicacy in certain cultures, they are caught in the nets of fishermen, hotels and noise pollution confuse hatchlings and some end up in resort swimming pools, or don’t even hatch at all, and for me the worst was seeing the effects of feeding off plastic. 8 Million tons are dumped into the ocean each year, 8 million tons.

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Monitoring a patient who had eaten so much plastic, she  was unable to dive down to feed off the seagrass only 2 meters below.

With dying corals and so much pollution, there is more plastic for marine life to feed off than anything else. Endangered Sea Turtles are also accidentally caught in fishing nets every day. They become totally tangled in nets and risk injury, drowning and sometimes slaughter. The Local Ocean Trust, established in 1997 by dedicated locals wanting to preserve this marine coastline, are doing outstanding conservation efforts, increasing the numbers of endangered species daily. The dedicated team drive the protection of the fragile marine environment, promote sustainable livelihoods in the Watamu area and ensures the future of not only sea turtles but the total marine ecosystem in the area. This is a huge task for a small team and their numbers are seriously impressive. Their by catch release net programme gives an opportunity to fishermen who accidentally catch turtles in their nets to be compensated for returning the turtle to the trust, to be released back into the wild. Sometimes these turtles are in critical condition which is why the team has also established a rehabilitation centre which treats victims and ensures they are in full health, before being slowly released back into the wild. Over 10 000 turtles have  been released through this programme.

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Capturing data for the by catch release programme.

While I was visiting the trust, a patient  in the rehab was suffering the effects of eating plastic. Her stomach was so full of plastic that she couldn’t dive down to feed. It was painful to see her floating so helplessly on the surface. The procedure to remove the plastic is brutal. This is when I just really stopped to think about what we can all do in our daily lives to try and make a small difference. Recycle, stop using so much plastic – I shocked myself at the amount of plastic I was using, now I really try to be aware of my consumption. I also urge travellers to go on ecoholidays and see for themselves that even in the most beautiful and remote places in the world, our carbon footprint is devastating.

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Plastic collected from a 1 hour beach clean up.
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It is believed only 1 in 1000 sea turtles make it to adulthood.

Please help the Local Ocean Trust in their continuous efforts to protect the oceans by donating here: http://www.watamuturtles.com. Alternatively, book your next eco holiday in Watamu and spend some time with these magnificent creatures as a volunteer.

Contact me for information on how to plan your trip.

 

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