Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s turtle defense campaign on the island of Santa Lucia, Cabo Verde, has officially come to an end for 2014. This year’s collaboration between Sea Shepherd and Biosfera 1, a local non-governmental organization, has made a fantastic example of cooperation between likeminded NGOs working together for the preservation of key species on Cabo Verde’s islands of Santa Luzia and Raso.
Although 341 loggerhead sea turtle nests were tagged this year, this number is one of the lowest recorded during this ten-year-long project. Researchers and volunteers assisted 25 of the tagged control nests for the scientific study, which means they protected the nests and assisted the hatchlings. These efforts resulted in the safe release of roughly 2,500 loggerhead hatchlings into the waters off of Francisca and Achados Beaches.
Our nightly beach patrols with Biosfera 1 protected countless mature female turtles who came to nest on the beaches in the dead of night. Thankfully, we did not find any wandering the desert this year as has happened in years past. One mature female turtle was found entangled in fishing nets, but released safely back to the ocean.
We intercepted hundreds of disoriented and trapped hatchlings, saved them from the sun’s searing heat and hungry ghost crabs, and had the pleasure of releasing them safely into the waters at sundown.
We loaded our baskets full of hatchlings under the cover of night. Atop the dunes with golden sand, as the sun lowers into the ocean, hundreds of seemingly inanimate little bodies spring to life.
Smelling the sea air, instinct takes over as they clamber over one another in a mad dash for the ocean. We see thousands of tiny flippers carving sandy tracks, as the sweeping surf picks up the first arrivals and whisks them off to whatever fate awaits them. Some are spat back out onto the beach. We offer a helping hand, assisting them past the surf as they attempt to begin the next phase of their new, unpredictable life.
Sadly, not all are as fortunate. They will smell and taste the ocean, clambering to reach it, but they will never feel it envelop them. Mountains of garbage on Achados Beach will consume them as they struggle to navigate what should be a pristine beach en route to the waiting ocean.
Our base camp is now dismantled, and the area has been returned to its natural state. In the coming days, we will return to the north beach of Achados. With assistance from the Cabo Verde Navy, we aim to spend seven days removing the most obstructive garbage from three kilometers of beaches.
Sea Shepherd will remain on the island of Raso, to protect the endangered shearwater juveniles and maintain a visible anti-poaching presence. The next two weeks will see the birds migrate from the island.