Loggerhead sea turtle conservation on Sal Island, Cape Verde

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The crystal-clear waters and stunning beachscapes of Sal island in Cape Verde attracts over 380 000 tourists a year. While tourism is good for local businesses and the Cape Verde economy, it has a negative impact on the loggerhead sea turtle population of the island. Sal is an important breeding location for loggerheads while Cape Verde is home to one of the largest breeding populations of loggerheads in the world.

Since 2015, Project Biodiversity has been spearheading environmental conservation efforts on the island, conducting night patrols during the nesting season and maintaining hatcheries to protect marine turtles and their nests. This is part of their broader effort to inspire action among locals and visitors alike and secure a brighter future for the communities and wildlife that call the island home.

Project Biodiversity with baby loggerhead

Photo: Project Biodiversity

The loggerhead sea turtle: an icon under threat

sea turtle monitoring Cape Verde

Photo: Project Biodiversity

The loggerhead is the only species of sea turtle that nest in the archipelago and is an important emblem on the islands. Loggerhead turtles appear in hand-carved artwork and are printed on the national currency.

Unfortunately, poaching and unregulated development has resulted in a decrease in the number of nesting loggerheads. Currently, the Cape Verde loggerhead population is considered the eleventh most endangered marine turtle population in the world.

Nesting loggerhead sea turtles

Every year between June and October, international volunteers join local Cape Verdeans to patrol over 21.4km of nesting beaches. These efforts have already yielded some results. Nesting trends have steadily increased over the last three years. With almost 15 000 nests recorded last year, it is estimated that around 2 900 loggerhead turtles came ashore to nest. On average, each female creates five nests per breeding season. This is a 96% increase in nesting activity from 2017.

Loggerhead turtle nesting Cape Verde

Photo: Project Biodiversity

In the last two years, the known number of nesting turtles killed fell from 18% in 2016 to just 6% in 2018. Though this number does not account for all poaching activity, it is a positive shift.

The impact of tourism on loggerheads in Cape Verde

dead loggerhead sea turtle

Photo: Project Biodiversity

The tourism boom has had a direct environmental impact on the local ecosystems, the nesting turtles and their hatchlings. Destruction of dune ecosystems for hotel development and poor government regulations when it comes to new developments have placed mounting pressure on coastal resources. Additionally, light pollution threatens the success of thousands of nests as hatchlings rely on the brightest lights to direct them towards the ocean. In natural circumstances, that light comes from the reflection of the sky on the sea.

The role of sea turtle hatcheries 

In order to aid sea turtle populations, Project Biodiversity operates three hatcheries, where nests threatened by light pollution, predation or flooding are transferred. Of nearly 15 000 nests, only 13% had to be relocated into hatcheries in 2018. From those nests, over 98 000 hatchlings were released safely into the sea. In the wild, only 1 in 1 000 sea turtles goes onto to breed.

loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings

Photo: Project Biodiversity

The hatcheries on Sal also serve as an important educational tool for locals and tourists alike. Over 8 000 people visit the hatcheries each year for a chance to see baby loggerheads emerge from their nests.

 Written by Shannon Sutherland of Project Biodiversity

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