Sea turtle poaching along the Kenya coast is a dire problem. It is estimated that the majority of sea turtles caught as by-catch are killed, as well as facing the threat of targeted poaching. In response to this, local residents began patrolling turtle nests and in 1997 Watamu Turtle Watch was formed. Today the programme has grown in scope and has been renamed Local Ocean Trust. By engaging the local community, the Trust monitors nests and works with local fishers in a 'compensatory net release programme', which encourages fishers to release turtles rather than killing them. This hands-on approach is complemented by community outreach and education programmes.
The poaching and wildlife trade problem
Species affected Green Sea Turtle Chelonia mydas , Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea , Loggerhead Turtle Caretta caretta , Olive Ridley Turtle Lepidochelys olivaceaProducts in trade
Green turtle: This species is regularly slaughtered for its meat, eggs, oil, and carapace. The meat is distributed on the black market where it can fetch a very high price.
Hawksbill turtle: This species was nearly wiped out due to the huge international trade in marine turtle shells, which came from the hawksbill, to make jewellery, frames, and ornaments from the 1950’s to the early 1990’s. Much of these shells/parts were exported to Japan.
Leatherback: Some populations of leatherback seem to be stable but others, such as the Pacific population is currently declining at an unsustainable rate, due to unsustainable egg harvesting, fishery by-catch, and coastal development, amongst others. Some of Pacific ocean populations have disappeared entirely.
Loggerhead: The main cause of decline to loggerhead populations worldwide is incidental capture in fishing gear, primarily in longlines and gillnets, trawls, dredging as well as traps and pots also play a role.
Olive ridley: Even though this is the most abundant species of marine turtle, their numbers are rapidly declining worldwide due to bycatch, poaching (for their skin and eggs), pollution and development on nesting beaches.
Overview of the problem
Sea turtle poaching along the Kenya coast is a dire problem. It is estimated that the majority of sea turtles caught as by-catch are killed, as well as facing the threat of targeted poaching for meat, carapaces, and oil.
The anti-IWT initiative
Watamu Turtle Watch is the flagship programme. It was started by local residents in 1997 to protect nesting sea turtles. Now it sits under ocean conservation along with Diani Turtle Watch, Bycatch release, beach profiling, and specialist Rehabilitation Centre for sick and injured sea turtles. The combination of ocean conservation, education, and outreach programmes enable us to make a real difference in ensuring the future of the marine environment.
Watamu (1997) and Diani (2012) Turtle Watch: Beach Monitors - members of the local community - patrol the beaches every night to keep the turtles and their nests safe. Nests that are at risk from natural or human dangers are relocated by trained Beach Monitors.
Most of the crew first came to the project as volunteers.
Bycatch Release Programme (2000): The programme works with local fishermen on a daily basis, encouraging them to release, rather than slaughter their accidental sea turtle by-catch. Each year the number of participating fishermen increases: in 2017, over 400 local fishermen were actively engaged and supporting the programme. Correspondingly, the number of turtles being released has also increased.
Fishermen notify the Watamu Turtle Watch team when sea turtles are accidentally caught in nets or lines. The team then assesses the turtle’s health and data recorded. The turtle is then tagged and if healthy, released. A small compensatory sum of approx. $3.50 USD (dependent on turtle size) is offered to the fishermen for their time and effort. The programme works alongside LOT’s education and community awareness programmes, in order to maintain cooperation with local fishing communities and its success reflects progress towards a change in local attitudes towards conservation.
Education: LOC works with thirty local schools through this programme. We organise visits to our headquarters for students as well as providing educational outreach to schools and involving students in field excursions. LOC also welcomes schools from all over Kenya who come to visit our Marine Information Centre.
Each year we interact with over 2,500 school children.
Our Marine Environment Education programme works with 30 local schools. We offer children the opportunity to learn about the importance and benefits of protecting their local marine environments and all its inhabitants, and includes 'anti-poaching awareness'. We believe that an effective education programme combined with the incentive for the next generation to ‘Love Their Local Ocean’ can make a dramatic and positive impact on the future of the marine environment.
Our Marine Environment Education Programme consists of outreach sessions to schools, facilitating for students to visit our Marine Information Centre and practical conservation activities such as mangrove plantings and coastal clean-ups.
The Marine Scouts programme was developed as an extra-curricular environmental education programme for gifted local children. The Marine Scout troop is made up of eight local children who have shown particular interest in nature. They become ambassadors of the environment in their communities and the aim is for them to go to a career in an environment related field.
Community Outreach: These programmes try to address the relevant concerns and issues of their local communities, especially the fisherfolk. It also helps to improve anti-poaching and sustainable fisheries work.
LOC is currently engaged with 15 local community groups in order to raise awareness about conservation issues as well as support capacity building and training. We use our motto ‘Love Your Local Ocean’ to emphasise the importance of local people taking responsibility for their natural environment to ensure its preservation for the future. All the community groups we work with engage in some form of community conservation. This includes coastal clean-up efforts, mangrove restoration, and anti-poaching patrols.
Alternative Sustainable Livelihoods - Community Empowerment and Capacity Building : We actively encourage the groups we work with to engage in Alternative Income Generating activities (AIG’s) to lessen their impact and pressure on the marine environment. There is a high dependency on fishing and tourism for livelihoods and we believe this to be detrimental in the long run if resources are not sustainably managed. The types of AIG’s community groups engage in include farming, tree nurseries, beekeeping and gravel production.
These groups face many challenges such as lack of capacity, expertise, technical support, and finances. LOC provides the support and motivation that our groups need in order to grow. Without this, many of these groups would collapse. We offer a constant presence in the community, organising training and capacity building workshops with partner groups, advice, support and any other assistance we are able to provide.
Through this programme we engage with over 500 people in 14 different groups.
Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour
Dedicated field staff undertake nightly beach patrols.
In 1998, a ‘compensatory net release programme’ was introduced for turtles incidentally caught by local artisanal fishers. The programme encourages artisanal fishermen to release, rather than slaughter their accidental sea turtle by-catch. A small compensatory sum of approx. $3.50 USD (dependent on turtle size) is offered to the fishermen for their time and effort.
Build/and or support sense of community ownership or stewardshipFurther detail
Staff work alongside the community to conduct beach clean-ups and mangrove restoration. The organisation's motto ‘love your local ocean’ is used to emphasize the importance of local people taking ownership of their natural environment in order to preserve for the future.
Improving education and awarenessFurther detail
The education and community awareness programme works alongside the 'compensatory net release programme' in order to maintain cooperation with local fishing communities and its success reflects progress towards a change in local attitudes towards conservation.
In addition, LOT engages with community groups, raising awareness about conservation issues as well as supporting capacity building and training.
Local schools take part in the education programme that offers children the opportunity to learn more about marine turtle conservation, coral reef ecosystems, and mangrove protection. The LOT team teaches children about the importance and benefits of protecting their local marine environments and all its inhabitants. The project also welcomes international schools and universities and receives local and international university interns on a regular basis.
In addition, the Marine Scout programme is designed to encourage young conservationists and teaches young people basic scientific surveying and species identification skills, as well as allowing them to assist in by-catch releases and data collection.
Has the initiative made a difference?
Turtle Watch: On average, Local Ocean protects and monitors 50-60 nests per year in Watamu. Through our Diani Turtle Watch programme, a further 60-70 nests are monitored on the Kenyan south coast.
To date, more than 900 nests have been monitored and over 73,000 hatchlings have made it safely to the ocean.
Bycatch Release program: Hundreds of turtles are rescued every year by working closely with the fishing community.
Each rescued turtle is assessed, then measured, weighed and tagged. If it is in good health, the turtle is transported to the Watamu Marine National Park where it is released back into the ocean.
The rescue crew average 5–8 releases a day, and today more than 17,000 turtle rescues have been conducted and the data collected has provided incredible insight into turtle behaviour and physiology. In addition, this keeps the team in regular contact with local communities, feeding into their integrated education and awareness programmes.
The number of sea turtles seen in the Watamu area has increased.
Education and Community Outreach: Our outreach efforts have greatly increased community participation in our work. A more informed local community now regularly take part in organised beach clean-ups, mangrove planting, and other conservation activities as well as reporting on illegal activities and assisting with our sea turtle conservation initiatives.
What works and why
Promoting the concept of local communities sustainably managing their own local ocean and supporting them in this endeavour, is a major goal. The key to this is information, awareness, constant contact, capacity building and a commitment to long-term collaboration. This is the only way to make a measurable difference on the ground.
A holistic, integrated approach is core to the initiative, and local people must buy into an idea, rather than be forced into it. Although this may take time, in the end, it is more sustainable.
The programme is cost-effective, low tech, low key and at grassroots. The support entrusted to us is used to maximum effect and is totally accountable. Project planning has always involved carefully analysis of how we can best make a difference on the ground and consideration for the possible knock on effects — both good and bad. We try never to embark on anything that might prove unsustainable. We try not to promise things we might not achieve or deliver. There has to be a measurable end result. This approach has ensured that local communities trust us and therefore collaborate with us.
We prefer to create long-term relationships with people, rather than just one-off events, which might just tick a box on paper. Our community liaison officers spend every day in the field, monitoring, mentoring and working with groups. Our school education programme brings children to our center and we have an outreach initiative too. Fun days, mangrove planting, beach cleaning, and discussion events bring our communities together. Every year we plant thousands of mangroves with the help of our local communities. These activities help improve bonds to work towards a common goal.
Factors for success
Sufficient time investment in building relationships and trust between the initiative and local communities
Effective and accountable community-based natural resources management institutions
Organisers, donors and partners
Partners: WIOMSA; Kenya Wildlife Service, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, Visible, African Conservation Centre, Enviroserve
Donors: Tusk Trust; Aktionsgemeinschaft Artenschutz; For Rangers; Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund; African Fund for Endangered Wildlife; United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
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