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TOURISM OR TURTLES: MUST IT BE ONE OR THE OTHER?

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

A guided turtle walk, Cape Verdean

Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) are now the only species of marine turtle nesting on Sal. Although in the past others, such as the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and green (Chelonia mydas), reportedly nested, now they are only seen in offshore waters, mainly due to their numbers being decimated by hunting.

Although hunting is still a major issue with 43 turtles killed on Sal in 2010, habitat loss and light pollution are becoming a much more serious threat.  Construction sites, hotels, apartment buildings and restaurants close to beaches, bright lights and illegal removal of sand are contributing to a marked decrease in the total number of nesting turtles on beaches in Sal.

Further loss of habitat is caused by increased amounts of beach furniture, beach bars and restaurants, more lighting along the shore and people driving on beaches.

Cape Verdean Beaches

In 2009, compared to 2008, Sal experienced an average increase in nests of 200% while the beach most affected by construction, Algodoeiro (on the west coast of Sal) saw a decrease of 7.3%, most likely because turtles are moving from there to an undisturbed area.  This beach also recorded a much lower nesting ratio than normal.  Usually 30% of tracks seen would have nests while the others are what is known as ‘attempts’ or ‘false crawls’.  On Algodoeiro in 2009 only 17% of tracks were nests, indicating reluctance to nest due to light pollution and noise.

Although turtles will choose other places to nest, the possibility exists that they will choose inappropriate places such as areas that flood or beaches where they are more likely to be killed, such as Mont Leão which is unpatrolled.

Bright lighting not only deters turtles from nesting but disorientates hatchlings and over the last three seasons 50% of nests that been have left on Algodoeiro have been affected, with emergent hatchlings becoming confused and heading to construction sites, bars, hotels and restaurants instead of the sea.

Turtles may continue to nest in areas affected by light pollution but increasing amounts of intervention will be required by SOS Tartarugas & the Câmara Municipal (City Hall) of Sal since more nests will need to be relocated to hatcheries, creating strain on already limited amounts of finance and manpower.

Of course, Sal has few resources and must exploit the good weather and long, sandy beaches for tourism.  This has resulted in a dramatic increase in apartments and hotels on the south and south-western side of the island, which should, in turn, result in a stronger economy and increased prosperity for residents.

So the question is, are the two needs mutually exclusive or can turtles and tourism coexist peacefully?

Tourism on Sal is a necessity for economic growth and indeed it is a necessity for turtle conservation as well.  Since the national and local governments have very limited budgets for the protection of this natural resource, it falls on SOS Tartarugas to be entirely self-sufficient.

In fact, 70% of the money that pays for patrolling Rangers to protect nesting females and relocate and monitor nests is raised through contributions from visitors to the island. Turtle walks, hatchery visits to see turtles being born and symbolic adoptions of both adult and baby turtles are just a few of the ways tourists can participate in conservation activities. In fact, several Rangers initially came to Sal on holiday and came back later to make a more long-term commitment.

Not only is participation in conservation activities vital for funding, it also has a strong role to play in informing and educating people about the needs of turtles. Activities with children are especially valuable.

Girl kneeling at hatchery,  Cape Verdean

So for a non-profit organisation such as SOS Tartarugas it is important to understand the needs of the island, the people and the economy and to work with developers and the government to find compromises that protect the natural heritage of Sal but allows sustainable growth.

Easy solutions exist such as turtle friendly lighting – these emit a certain kind of light that turtles don’t see as well as humans or, even simpler, lights can be directed downwards and shaded so they can’t be seen from the beach.

Beach furniture can be removed at night and visitors can be given information about minimising disturbance to turtles by not going to the beach unaccompanied at night.

For developers & hotels it makes sense to preserve nesting beaches as an added attraction for visitors. Turtles are a ‘flagship’ species and many people pay a premium for their holiday if they have a chance to see either nesting turtles or hatchlings. Surveys conducted by SOS Tartarugas amongst tourists and residents have shown a clear indication that once they are aware of the issues, the majority of people will choose a turtle friendly business over one that contributes to the extinction of loggerheads on Sal.

A guided turtle walk

Case studies from other countries show clearly that the development of tourism does not have to be the end of the road for nesting turtles, all it takes is cooperation and some creative thinking. Preserving Sal’s natural heritage is of benefit to all.

For more information on turtle walks and other conservation activities visit

www.turtlesos.org or email info@turtlesos.org

For more information on the effects of tourism on turtles in Sal
http://turtlesoscaboverde.blogspot.com/2010/11/scientificpaper-published-effects-of.html

For more information on turtle friendly solutions for lighting
http://turtlesoscaboverde.blogspot.com/2011/02/how-tohelp-turtles-if-you-have.html

Cape Verdean Turtles heading towards sea