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Protection & Conservation, Caretta Caretta in Maio, Cape Verde

There are three main islands used by nesting turtles in Cape Verde: Boavista, Sal and Maio. These islands support a nesting population of loggerheads (Caretta caretta), thought to be the 3rd largest colony in the world. Maio is the least protected in terms of sea turtle conservation. Implementing a project here faces challenges such as extensive beaches, difficult access, lots of flooding areas and traditional culture, with people hunting nesting loggerheads as well as illegally taking eggs. In Maio egg consumption is a serious matter, reaching almost 70% of the clutches in some beaches, whilst in Sal this affects only 1% of the nests.

Maio lacks the seriousness of a proper conservation structure. The local government already has a number of guards patrolling the beaches, but their reliability is questionable whilst other interested parties lack the proper knowledge to work with the turtles without disturbing the nesting activities.

Under the directives of the newly founded CVSTN (Cape Verdian Seaturtle Network) and SOS Tartarugas (Sal island), it was possible to undertake the first complete census of the island which found 548 activities (nests and false crawls) gathered over 4 days. We were able to collect information on the nesting beaches to assess population density in order to prioritise future efforts. Identifying flooding areas and areas in which illegal take of eggs was occurring was one of our objectives and we gave support and training to guards and local government officials throughout the season. We initiated outreach campaigns in the community informing people about the importance of the turtles in the wild, effects of captivity as well as teaching the biology and life cycle. The objective of these activities was to change the way local residents view turtles, informing them of the threatened status and the economic potential of a nesting congregation. There is a need for immediate protection and conservation of this population as, development is still in early stages and we can work with developers and locals alike to create a sustainable turtle friendly island.

We started working with several active members of the local community and ran groups of workshops and training sessions along with night time visits to the nesting beaches so people could witness the process. These actions were supported by the city hall, local authorities (also involved) and local businesses. This had a strong impact on the community and outreach activities were viewed as a positive experience for all, assuring the interest and feeling for protection of the species. All the people involved during the course of these actions were very committed, but after the departure of our delegation from Maio island things fell into oblivion and no more efforts were made to improve and continue the work begun during our stay. There is a need for a hatchery, active beach protection and a tagging program to progress the ongoing task of saving sea turtles and developing a successful community based conservation project.

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