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How are Local Ocean Conservation protecting sea turtles in Kenya?


Sea turtles worldwide are threatened with extinction. Only one in 1,000 hatchlings are estimated to survive to adulthood and six of the seven species are vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. Local Ocean Conservation have dedicated themselves to protecting sea turtles and in turn the marine environments on which they rely.

Who are Local Ocean Conservation?

Local Ocean Conservation are a private non-profit organisation who are committed to protecting Kenya’s marine environment using a holistic approach to conservation.

Their headquarters are based at Watamu Beach, north of Mombasa within the Watamu National Park and Reserve. The Reserve has sandy beaches, coral gardens, sand flats and mangrove forest which support diverse marine species. LOC was created here by local residents in 1997 when a small team came together to patrol turtle nests and protect them from poachers and beach development.

Over the last 20+ years their projects have developed into a holistic approach to marine conservation, protecting the sea turtles and their wider marine environment. This conservation effort is still, sadly, desperately needed as sea turtles are at risk from many factors including illegal poaching for their meat, oil and shells, the ingestion of marine debris (including plastics mistaken for jellyfish), habitat degradation as well as entanglement in nets.

How do Local Ocean Conservation to help protect Kenya's marine life?

LOC protect Watamu’s marine environment by patrols and scientific monitoring, turtle rescue, conservation education, community engagement and campaigning. They also run a turtle conservation project on the South Kenyan coast which covers a stretch of 50km centred on Diani Beach. Their comprehensive range of projects include:

  • Turtle Watch: beach monitors patrol the beach to protect the nests and turtles safe at night. In Watamu, 50-60 nests are monitored each year and in Diani another 60-70 nests are monitored.
  • Bycatch Release Programme: working closely with local fishermen, LOC rescue any turtles trapped in fishing nets, check their health, weigh and measure and then tag them before either releasing them in the Watamu Marine Park or transporting them to the Rehabilitation Centre for further care. Over 19,000 turtles have been rescued over 20 years and the data collected has provided invaluable insights.
  • Turtle Rehabilitation: sick and injured turtles are cared for until they are healthy enough to return to the ocean. The Rehabilitation Centre also is used as a powerful education tool. To date over 490 turtles have been cared for at the Centre.
  • Beach profiling and monitoring: this is used to inform long term protection and management of the beach habitat.
  • Conservation education and community awareness: 30 local schools take part in a LOC education programme. Students visit the HQ and educators provide outreach to more remote schools. Students can also take part in practical conservation activities such as mangrove planting and beach clean ups.
  • Marine Scouts: a total of 28 children since 2010, who showed exceptional interest in marine conservation, have been supported through weekly sessions. These include classroom learning about marine environments and conservation as well as field study, scientific research projects and practical conservation work. LOC’s aim is to equip these children with the tools to pursue an environment-related career.
  • Community outreach: LOC support local groups to develop sustainable income methods which do not put pressure on the marine environment, such as running tree nurseries, sustainable agriculture and honey production. They provide training and capacity building workshops alongside partner organisations.
  • Mangrove restoration: LOC’s HQ has a mangrove nursery and in total over 230,000 mangrove seedlings have been planted and monitored to restore the local mangrove habitats.

What have Local Ocean Conservation achieved in 2020?

Local Ocean Conservation are largely funded by donation from tourism-related activities, including their volunteer program and individuals visiting their projects during their African safaris.

2020 has been a very difficult year as the travel restrictions in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted available funds, reducing their ability to protect the marine environment. This comes at a time where many local people have lost their jobs and therefore there has been an influx of people fishing (legally and illegally) as well as poaching. Despite these challenges, LOC have managed to maintain core activities and have achieved the following:

  • 104 monitored and protected turtle nests have resulted in 9,457 successful hatchlings in 2020.
  • 1,0179  sea turtles have been rescued as part of the Bycatch Release Programme in 2020 in partnership with local fishermen.
  • 67 sea turtles have been admitted into the Rehabilitation Centre.
  • 27 community conservation education groups have been supported.
  • 793 fisherman engaged with.

How can you help as a part of your safari to Kenya?

If you are visiting the Kenyan coast during your safari to Kenya, we would encourage you to visit the Local Ocean Conservation team at the headquarters on Watamu Beach or in their Marine Education Centre at Diani Beach.

Hands-on involvement is so rewarding so please do get involved! You could help to care for or release a rescued turtle from the rehabilitation centre or help plant mangrove seedlings whilst learning first-hand about turtle conservation.

This philanthropic involvement enhances your holiday experience whilst making a positive impact on the area to which you are travelling. This is especially exciting for children, too, who love to see the sea turtles in person at the Rehabilitation Centre and learn about their life cycles!

If you are not travelling to the area but would still like to make a difference, you could make a donation or adopt a rescued sea turtle as a gift for a loved one!

Why do LOC focus on sea turtles?

Sea turtles are a key indicator species of general ocean health. Sea turtles are found in many marine habitats, from beaches, coral reefs, drop-offs through to the open ocean where they can travel immense distances in their lives. They rely on a wide range of habitats throughout their life cycle and so are highly sensitive to changes in any one of those habitats.

They are therefore very vulnerable to human impact on the marine environment. Human damage that impacts turtles includes:

  • Beach development (for tourism or housing for example).
  • Mangrove forest destruction.
  • Sea grass meadows destruction.
  • Coral reef destruction and bleaching.
  • Climate change and ocean level rise (which can destroy nesting beaches).
  • Ocean pollution by plastic or chemicals.

In addition to being highly sensitive to any marine disruption, sea turtles are also essential for maintaining good marine environments. Turtles are known as the ‘gardeners of the sea’ as some species maintain and tend to seagrass meadows which in turn provide a habitat for other marine life, protect the sea beds from erosion and enhance water quality (not to mention act as a vast carbon-sink!).

Similarly, the predatory leatherback turtles feed on jellyfish. When jellyfish populations explode, fish, crustacean and plankton species are decimated, so the turtle helps to provide balance to the ecosystem.

They also help to maintain beach health by cycling nutrients from the sea to the beach. Even the turtle hatchlings that don’t survive the short but perilous journey from their nest to the sea play their part, as the nutrients in their shells fertilise the beach and help beach plants to grow which in turn stabilise sand dunes.

If you would like any more information about The Explorations Company’s charitable partners you can read our Philanthropy Handbook to learn about the range of charities that we support and how you can get involved. Please do contact us if you would like to make a donation to Local Ocean Conservation, we would be delighted to assist you or help to match your interests with a suitable project.

 

Images and video courtesy of Local Ocean Conservation, East African Ocean Explorers, Mike & Linda Markovina- Moving Sushi, Vince Theo - Badasses Without Borders, Naserian Koikai, Tom Strickland, TeamBWB, Lucan Visuals,

Kyle Durston, Zikhona Mda, Bigleap Music & Post, Matthew Rosmarin.

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