The Latest news from our Turtle Project in Kenya

Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Wednesday, 22nd October 2014

The staff and volunteers in Watamu have been working hard over the last three months, despite some fundraising setbacks, with amazing results.

Turtle being released in Watamu

The By Catch Release Programme continues to be as busy as ever with 384 releases conducted over the last 3 months, 60% of these turtles had never been seen by the team before. But one in particular the team could not stop talking about. One turtle rescue uncovered a juvenile with a combination of physical characteristics that suggested it could have been a cross between a green turtle and a hawksbill. After lots of debate among staff, it couldn’t be agreed which species it was more likely to be and they decided to call this unique turtle a "cocktail". To help recognise the many turtles that pass through the programme the team are now using a turtle photo identification method. This means they can recognise individuals even if it is not possible to read their tag. Divers and snorkelers in the area can now send in any photos they take of the turtles they meet, an exciting new contribution to the research at Watamu.

For those turtles that are not lucky enough to be released immediately due to illness or injury, the rehabilitation centre is able to give them the best chance of recovery. There have been 15 new patients over the last three months with afflictions ranging from shark bites to an unusual nosebleed. 10 of these turtles were successfully rehabilitated and released helping to prevent declines of these species.

Bootstrap Bill, one of the centres long term patients, continues to be cared for by the team with regular sea baths to help build her strength. Everyone is hopeful that she will one day regain control of her buoyancy. Another popular patient among staff and visitors was juvenile hawksbills Sasha, who spent three weeks at the centre after being tangled in a discarded fishing net. Sasha recovered well and has now been successfully released.

It has been an exciting few months with lots of beach babies as the time came for the previous quarters nests to hatch. Over the last 3 months 25 nests have hatched with a total of 2,183 hatchlings.

The team at the Watamu turtle programme are continuing to look into the effects climate change is having on the success of hatchlings. Sea level rise threatens to reduce available nesting space and rising nest temperatures will produce more females, negatively impacting their ability to reproduce and causing a decline in genetic diversity. This would lead to an overall decrease in sea turtle populations. The programme is researching how these changes would impact populations at Watamu, recording incubation temperatures and measuring beach profiles. This will allow the team to understand how climate change is affecting the sea turtle population structure and mitigate any losses to suitable nesting sites.

New Turtle Rescue Car at Watamu

Over the last few months education coordinator Anne Wanjiru has been busy providing outreach to local schools, engaging with over 1,200 students. Topics included Sea Turtle Biology and Marine Pollution. The Local Ocean Marine Scouts have also been busy helping in the Rehabilitation Centre and furthering their knowledge on the specialist care of sick and injured turtles.

Community outreach is an important component of work conducted by the team at the Watamu turtle programme and they have recently helped to form the Jimba Pomboo Fishermen Group. The Jimba fishermen use the landing site in neighbouring village Kanani. Known as one of the worst areas for turtle poaching, conservation and community work in Kanani needs to be tactful. The Watamu turtle programme Community Liaison Officers Sammy and Athman work closely with the fishermen to show them why turtles are needed and that there are not many left. They demonstrate how sustainable fishing practices are vital for their livelihoods and that there are other ways to make money. Thanks to these efforts the fishermen have formalised themselves into the Jimba Pomboo Fishermen Group. This provides an effective forum in which to engage fishermen and explain the laws and consequences regarding illegal fishing gear and fishing within the Marine Reserve.

Thanks to the fantastic fundraising efforts of Marika and Stephan Passerini and the students of Eglisau Secondary School in Switzerland, the programme was able to buy 'Punda' to replace the Turtle Rescue and Release Car. The new car was put straight to use with 9 turtles to rescue on its first day!

Female turtle being weighed with new scalesThe Watamu turtle programme relies on the generosity of others to continue its fantastic work. From Working Abroad, we have been able to donate a set of digital scales which will enable turtles to be weighed in the field. The new scales have already helped with the release of a large female turtle. This one in particular was special and shows real progress as turtle meat is high in demand in Watamu and this female could very easily have been butchered. This female was also at the size where she is ready to start nesting, or is already doing so, meaning her survival will make a real difference to the survival of the population in Watamu. 

The project is currently facing a funding crisis which is putting the future of the project in jeopardy. But the team is doing an amazing job to secure other funding sources and are running a fundraising campaign via YouCaring!

By Megan Smith, WorkingAbroad team

Author: WorkingAbroad Projects

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