A SCOTTISH-backed conservation project is set to help save endangered sea turtles in the “jewel of Africa”.
The Lamu region is home to half of all the turtle nests found along the coast of Kenya, but development of a major shipping port and destructive fishing are threatening their survival.
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Now an initiative set up by conservation charity WWF to protect the marine creatures has received a £250,000 funding boost from players of the Scottish-based People’s Postcode Lottery.
The joint project will support local communities and groups working to protect turtles by patrolling coastal waters and egg-laying beaches, guarding nesting turtles and moving nests that are at risk of flooding.
The scheme will also mount a campaign to raise awareness of the conservation and cultural importance of turtles, and of freeing them when they are accidentally caught in fishing nets.
Sea turtles are one of the planet’s most ancient creatures, dating back 110 million years to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Kenyan waters are home to five of the world’s seven species of sea turtle – green, hawksbill, Olive Ridley, leatherback and loggerhead – all of which are red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.
But in spite of enjoying legal protection under wildlife and fisheries acts, turtle populations in the country have declined by more than 80 per cent over the past 30 years.
It is estimated that 85 per cent of turtle deaths are caused by human activities, raising fears that these globally important creatures could be wiped out in East Africa in the next 50 years.
Turtle populations living around Lamu and its surrounding islands are at risk from illegal consumption and exploitation of the creatures and their eggs, destruction of nesting sites through illegal beach development, and damage to feeding grounds from pollution and unsustainable fishing methods.
Another factor is widespread poverty, which drives local communities to over-exploit both the turtles and their habitat.
WWF Scotland director Lang Banks welcomed the money and said: “With only one in every 1,000 newly hatched turtles surviving into adulthood, this important project will work with local communities to protect this vital marine environment.
“With the majority of the local population relying on fishing, the initiative will also help improve fishing practices while ensuring people have reliable and environmentally sustainable livelihoods.
“We’re delighted that funding from the players of People’s Postcode Lottery means we can now begin this work.”
Simon Reeve, an ambassador for WWF’s work in the region, has lent his support.
He said: “I’m acutely aware just how spectacular and precious this ecosystem is and the crucial role that marine turtles play in the health of the coral reef habitat – which in turn sustains the livelihoods of coastal communities under serious pressures. A huge thank you to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for their special support.”
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