Five species of turtles are found in the Cape Verdean waters: the Leatherback, the Green, the Loggerhead, the Hawksbill, and the Olive Ridley. However, only the Loggerhead nests here regularly. In fact, Cape Verde is the third largest Loggerhead nesting colony in the world!
Unfortunately there are many anthropomorphic threats to the nesting Loggerheads on Sal and without intervention the species could quickly disappear. The Cape Verdean NGO SOS Tartarugas started working on Sal in 2007 in order to address the threats to the Loggerhead population.
1. Illegal poaching of turtles
Nesting turtles are still hunted illegally for their meat. Poachers will come on the beach at night, wait for a nesting turtle to come out of the sea, and take her for her meat.
In order to prevent this from happening, SOS Tartarugas organizes all-night patrols of the beaches. The presence of wildlife rangers on the beach is usually enough to deter hunters from taking turtles. SOS Tartarugas also receives the support from the local police and the military to help with this problem.
2. Light pollution
When hatchlings emerge from their nest, they are drawn to the brightest direction. In a natural environment, the brightest direction is the sea horizon and so the hatchlings race out to the sea. However, if a nest is laid next to a hotel or road with streetlights, when hatchlings emerge from the nest, instead of going out to the sea, they will wander inland and never reach the sea. Discombobulated hatchlings will die dehydrated and exhausted.
When a nest is laid on a beach that is strongly affected by light pollution on Sal, the SOS Tartarugas wildlife rangers choose to relocate the nest to a safer area of the beach. Relocations are done as quickly as possible after the eggs are laid. If there are no safe zones on the particular beach, the eggs are relocated to a hatchery where they are kept safe from predators (crabs and feral dogs) and from light pollution.
3. Plastic pollution
Plastic pollution is a big problem on the island. The plastic comes in from the sea with the current and is deposited on the beaches. Out at sea, some turtles mistake the plastic for prey, ingest the plastic, and subsequently die. On land, the plastic may prevent some of the hatchlings from reaching the ocean.
SOS Tartarugas organizes massive beach cleans to temporarily solve this issue. Unfortunately, due to the scary-beyond-reason amounts of plastic in our oceans, it does not take long for the beach to be littered with trash again…
4. Other threats
There are many other threats to the Loggerhead population of Sal. For example, tourists like to ride quads on the beach. What they do not realize is that by doing so they compact the sand. Sand that is compacted too hard can prevent hatchlings from reaching the surface of the beach and thus kill an entire nest. Compacted sand can also make it very difficult or impossible for the nesting turtles to dig their nests.
Alongside all the conservation work carried out on the beaches, SOS Tartarugas tries to make the plight of the Loggerheads of Sal known to both the locals and tourists. For example, by speaking to restaurant owners and explaining why it is not sustainable to sell turtle meat, the black market for turtle meat can be suppressed. By arranging turtle walks to see nesting turtles at night, both tourists and locals can be educated on the problems that turtles face worldwide. By organizing fun and educational activities for children in the local schools, the next generations can be taught the importance and benefits of having healthy sea turtles in their sea.
If you want to read more about SOS Tartarugas and their work, check out their very informative website here!