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Local Ocean Trust: Watamu Turtle Watch - Conserving Kenya’s Marine Resources

Source: Rachael Oman, Project Manager and Gladys Kimani, Assistant Manager

Photos: Local Ocean Trust : Watamu Turtle Watch


The Project Background

Watamu, Kenya, is located 112km north of Mombasa. It is internationally renowned for its outstanding beauty and recognised as a UNESCO world Biosphere Reserve.Malindi Watamu Marine Protected Reserve (MWMPR) was designated as Kenya’s first marine protected area in 1968 and became a part of UNESCO biosphere Reserve in 1979.

Watamu Turtle Watch (WTW) began when a group of Watamu residents got involved with a local naturalist, Barbara Simpson, and her sea turtle nest patrols. The residents then consequently decided to increase their conservation efforts in the area. Their commitment and hard work resulted in the formation of WTW in 1997. In 2002, WTW responded to the need for a more broad based marine conservation effort due to the extensive degradation of Kenya’s coastline and reefs.   Local Ocean Trust (LOT) was created as a marine conservation organization committed to promoting the sustainable use and management of Kenya’s marine resources. LOT undertakes general marine conservation work locally and nationally, promoting the protection of Kenya’s MPAs. The name ‘Local Ocean Trust’ intends to encourage people to look after their own local ocean and promote the sustainable management of our marine resource.


LOT: WTW PROGRAMMES

Community OutreachCommunity Outreach — Without community participation it would be difficult to measure the number of turtle releases, poaching incidents, daily fish catch and nests laid within our area of work in Watamu. The communities, especially the fishermen, are vital in providing accurate and timely information relevant for data and research coordinators. Involving the community in all aspects of our programme  ensures its sustainability and encourages them to protect their marine resources and to use the sea turtle population as an indicator species for a healthy marine environment. Analysis of the population of sea turtles can therefore show us signs of recovery for a damaged and fragile ecosystem.



Releasing turtles with studentsEducation — The LOT: WTW education programme includes more than 26 local schools. The year 2012 saw 2265 Wildlife Clubs of Kenya students visit the project. We give them the opportunity to learn about sea turtles, fish, mangrove eco-systems, coral reefs and so much more about the ocean, and they even participate in beach cleanups regularly. Children play such an important role today and for the future, in educating members of their family as well as their communities and friends. Some of the students have even reported to us that they have stopped the cutting of mangrove trees in their villages and even the slaughter of sea turtles!!


 

Marine scout programme
Marine Scout Programme
 

— The Marine Scout programme was designed to encourage young conservationists. They learn basic scientific surveying skills, species identification as well as assisting in by-catch releases, data collection and the Rehabilitation Centre.

The young girl scouts pictured here may be our future sea turtle vets!

 

 



Nest Protection and Monitoring ProgrammeNest Protection and Monitoring
 — The LOT: WTW field team conduct daily/nightly patrols to monitor and protect our nesting females that come to the marine park beach to lay their eggs. The nests laid are vigilantly monitored throughout their incubation period. The LOT team prides itself on being present for each hatching, and we watch over the hatchlings on their way to the ocean. Protecting the hatchlings all the way to the sea increases their chance of survival.

All nests are exhumed 3 days after hatching in order to assess success rates as well as to collect valuable all data available. LOT: WTW promotes ‘in situ’ conservation where necessary; however any nests that are laid below the high water mark are relocated to safer ground within the riparian area. When the LOT team are seen patrolling the beach, marking nesting areas, a lot of curiosity is generated and we take this opportunity to educate and create awareness.

 

By-catch release programmeBy-Catch Release Programme — The programme encourages artisanal fishermen to release, rather than slaughter their accidental sea turtle by-catch and has grown steadily since its inception in 1998, with each year seeing an increase in the number of participating fishermen as well as the number of turtles being released.

This programme began as a trial in response to the high incidences of poaching by fishermen being reported in the Mida Creek area. For the last 15 years the by-catch programme has been running due to the commitment of hundreds of fishermen who have chosen to conserve the endangered sea turtle, knowing very well that the compensation offered of approx. $3.50USD for repairing damaged nets, communication, time and effort is nothing compared to what they would get if they chose to kill the turtle.


By-catch release programmePoaching exists in Watamu and the demand for sea turtle meat is still high in some communities.  A green sea turtle of 1m can fetch up to Kenyan shillings 40,000 (approx. $460 USD) when the meat and oil is extracted. In order to encourage the community to join in with conservation there must be an incentive, economic or otherwise, especially if you want them to conserve a species that is expendable in their eyes.

 



With education, awareness and community outreach, the fishermen from Mida Creek -- a foraging ground for sea turtles -- contact the project whenever a sea turtle is caught incidentally in fishing nets. Participation in the programme has grown from 3 landing sites to 12 landing sites and now covers over 30km of coastline and approx. 12km of Mida Creek.

 



2012 saw the highest number of releases conducted by LOT: WTW -1628 sea turtles were released back into the ocean!  Since the programme's inception we have successfully released over 9000 sea turtles! We are very proud of the fishermen we work closely with for their continued support. Over 300 fishermen are continually engaged in our release programme, and we have worked with over 1600 fishermen in the Watamu and surrounding areas conducting workshops and raising awareness.

 

Green turtle receiving treatment at the rehabilitation centreRehabilitation Centre — In 2003 Kenya’s first sea turtle rescue centre was built to take care of sick and injured turtles reported to us by the fishermen and the community. With increasing incidences of injury and disease, the rehabilitation centre now has 9 holding tanks and a clinic. A veterinarian is always on call in case of an emergency. Hooks, exhaustion, blockages, infections, amputations, boating accidents and the disease fibropapillomatosis are just several of the conditions we have seen at the rehab. Over 170 turtles have been admitted to the rehabilitation centre since it began and successfully released over 80% of these patients. These turtles would have otherwise died without medical assistance or care.


Summary

All of the LOT: WTW programmes are interlinked and work together. A holistic approach needs to be applied, as the ocean is the primary source of income for many households in Watamu and its environments. The education and awareness raised through community outreach programme has the community informing LOT: WTW of any incidents of poaching activities, beached or dead turtles nesting activity. The by-catch programme is believed to be one of a kind in Africa and indeed the world, providing valuable information on the population status of sea turtles in Watamu area.  It also provides sufficient data in view of the extent to which we are destroying our ocean with plastic pollution, illegal fishing gears/activity, illegal development on the beach as well as oil explorations in our ocean. We endeavor to make Watamu a very secure nesting area.  With sea turtle populations under threat, the natural “release” of thousands of hatchlings every year brings great hope for our sea turtles.

LOT: WTW strives to maintain a balance for the ocean and the utilization of its resources. The programmes are only embarked upon with careful consideration as to their sustainability. There are many things each of us can do to help sea turtles survive. We must remember that we share the oceans and the beaches with many other species and become informed about the things that are affecting and destroying their habitat. As an informed citizen, you have the power to influence the outcome of these issues by making your voice heard. Be informed about important issues, join and support LOT: WTW and please “Love Your Local Ocean!”

   
 
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Acknowledgements
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