About the Sea Turtle Project
This project offers the opportunity to volunteer with sea turtles in Kenya and take part in a variety of different sea turtle conservation projects, as listed below. We are happy to discuss each area of work with you and are also open to your suggestions and welcome students with research ideas.As a volunteer, you will be supervised on all of the projects by a resident volunteer co-ordinator who will be there to train and guide you throughout your time on the project. You will also receive orientation and full training at the beginning of the project.
Sea Turtle Nest Protection and Monitoring
We have nesting and hatching occurring almost all year round, the busiest time occurs from April to October. Patrols are conducted by community members and staff to protect nesting females, their eggs and their hatchlings. The nightly patrols are conducted by our staff and, when you are scheduled to take part in this programme, you will assist them with their duties.
All beach work varies with the tide times and night patrols are four hours. Turtles generally emerge from the sea after dark; therefore volunteers can expect to be on the beach anytime between 8.00pm – 3.00am. Patrol duties include:
• Tracking nesting activity
• Searching for hatching nests
• Searching for evidence of new nests
• Searching for stranded turtles
• Collecting data from nesting females e.g. measurements and tagging
Most nests are left where they were laid. However, sometimes they are located in an area threatened by sea wash or human activity. In this case they are carefully relocated to a safe area. This is delicate work requiring gentle and steady hands. Nest relocations are performed under the supervision of experienced staff.
What happens when the eggs are ready to hatch?
Hatchling runs: You will return to existing nest sites with the field officer on expected hatching dates (from 60 days after nest laying) to assist in the successful release of hatchlings when they emerge and to monitor their safe progress to the sea.
Excavations: This will occur at least three days after the hatching of a nest to determine hatching success and how many eggs were in a clutch. You will assist in recording how many of the eggs survived, the stage of egg development reached in those that did not hatch and the examination of shell remains to determine the total number of eggs laid in the chamber. Since 1997 over 900 nests and 75,000 hatchlings have been protected through this programme.
Bycatch Release Programme
This programme was set up in co-operation with local fishing communities, to encourage fishermen to release rather than slaughter turtles accidentally caught in their fishing gear.
When a turtle is found, these fishermen contact us and you will accompany our coordinator to the landing site to collect the turtle. You will then have the opportunity to assist in assessing the turtle’s condition, checking for parasites and injuries, before conducting data collection.
Data collection will involve measuring the carapace, recording the weight and attaching a tag or recording the number of an existing tag. If the turtle is fit and healthy you will transport the turtle to an appropriate release site where it will be returned to the ocean. If the turtle is sick or injured it will be transported back to our rehabilitation centre for treatment.
The project provides a small amount of remuneration to participating fishermen to cover any time effort and expense incurred. This programme is unique in the world and has given an incredible insight into the sea turtle behaviour. The fact that more turtles are now seen in the Watamu area is a reflection of the success of this programme and our linked education and community development programmes.
Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Centre
We run the only Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre on the East African seaboard. This is a fantastic facility and is also helping us research these incredible animals. The centre has eight purpose built holding tanks, with two smaller tanks. We have acquired considerable knowledge and expertise in treating and caring for sick and injured turtles and are now able to care for up to ten turtles at a time. The centre also acts as a conservation, education and awareness tool and where the local community, tourists and school children are encouraged to visit and learn about our work.
Your duties in the Rehabilitation Centre will vary depending on the number of turtles admitted and their specific care requirements. These are some of the tasks undertaken in the Rehabilitation Centre:
• Feeding turtles
• Cleaning the turtles
• Cleaning tanks
• Escorting turtles to Malindi for x-rays
• Preparation of food for turtles
• Keeping information boards updated
• Occasionally assisting during visits around the clinic and the rest of our compound
• For strong swimmers only, seagrass collection for food and sea baths with the turtles as part of their rehabilitation process.
Education and Community Awareness
We believe that education about the importance of conserving the coastal ecosystems on which local people depend is crucial. The project conducts regular marine environment and sea turtle conservation education and awareness programmes in the Watamu area to, amongst others, village communities, fishermen, schools and the tourist industry.
We are always looking for ways to help our local community, especially when it comes to exploring alternative income generating projects to relieve the pressure on already over- exploited marine resources and dependency on tourism.
We work with 21 community groups raising awareness about conservation issues as well as supporting capacity building and training for alternative income-generating initiatives. A large part of our community outreach involves providing support and motivation to help these groups grow.
They often face challenges such as lack of capacity, expertise, technical support and finance. We are able to offer advice, organise training and capacity building workshops with partner groups and provide support to help them continue.
Our staff work closely alongside the local community in many ways, such as conducting beach clean ups, mangrove restoration, first aid training as well as delivering regular presentations and workshops at our Marine Centre, fish landing sites and villages.
We would like each and every member of the community to “Love their Local Ocean” so we are always emphasising the importance of local people taking ownership of their natural environment in order to preserve it for the future. Typical activities include;
• Participate in beach cleaning days.
• Participate in a mangrove planting days.
• Assist at capacity building workshops.
• Assist with schools visits to the Rehabilitation and Marine Centres, including field trips.
• Accompany project coordinators when giving talks for tourists at local hotels.
• Creating and developing educational materials, including signage /marketing tools.
• Beach surveys.
• Community training and data collection.
• Fixed point photography on beach erosion surveys.
“One of our goals is to help people understand that what sea turtles need for their very survival, is relevant to what humans need to address right now, for their own future. Our local team works with local communities to implement a combination of ocean conservation, education and outreach programmes that enable us to protect sea turtles and the future of the marine environment. Our efforts over 20+ years have seen an increase in nesting turtles in Watamu, a decrease in poaching and heightened awareness around the need to protect this vital ecosystem. Volunteers not only see first-hand how they can make a difference in Watamu, but they also provide much needed hands-on help that our team requires.” – Quote from the Project Manager