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Why we need to protect our ancient mariners

 

To mark World Sea Turtle Day on 16 June,  TV presenter, bestselling author and WWF Ambassador, Simon Reeve gave us an exclusive interview on why he’s championing WWF’s work to protect sea turtles along the Kenyan coastline. Simon is supporting our work in Lamu, Kenya- home to half of all turtle nests on the Kenyan coastline- in an area known as the ‘jewel of Africa’.

The presenter of numerous acclaimed BBC TV series, including ‘Indian Ocean, Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Equator, Explore, Places That Don’t Exist and Meet the Stans’, Simon has travelled extensively in more than 110 countries, across Africa, the Caucasus, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Far East and Central Asia.

Simon Reeve © Andrew CarterSimon Reeve © Andrew Carter

What has motivated you to pursue your career path in filming and travel writing Simon?

I think I’ve been incredibly lucky to go on the adventures and journeys that I’ve done. My main motivation is that every single journey I’ve been on has been amazing and has taught me so much about the world. I’ve learnt so much about the beauty and wonder of our planet, but also about the challenges and issues facing us as humans and the natural world which we dominate and control.

What is your experience of Coastal East Africa – and have you visited Lamu?

The coast of East Africa is an extraordinary corner of the planet, stuffed with magnificent creatures and millions of people living often difficult lives. I was lucky enough to visit Lamu while travelling around the Indian Ocean for a 6-part BBC TV series of the same name, and I was absolutely blown away by the beauty and history of the place.

What are your most memorable experiences of marine turtles around the world?

I think the most memorable experience I’ve had with marine turtles was actually on a beach in Oman, while I was filming a series in which I travelled around the Tropic of Cancer, the northern border of the Tropics region. I was on a beach through the night as enormous, endangered green turtles, one of the greatest ocean travellers, were dragging themselves out of the sea to lay their eggs, something they do for just one night every three years.

It was incredibly exciting to witness. I’d never seen anything like it before. I felt I was witnessing nature involved in one of its eternal struggles. Eggs came plopping out one by one, the size of golf balls or ping pong balls. The turtles were totally focused on birthing. They were oblivious to our presence once they started laying, and were burying up to 100 eggs in the sand.

The whole process of digging the nest, laying the eggs, and then covering it all up again often took all night. It was utterly exhausting for the turtles. They would shift a bit of sand, then rest, then shift some more sand, then rest.

As one turtle was laying eggs, another nest of eggs were hatching. I had this very memorable experience where the sun just started to rise into the sky, and tiny turtles began forcing their way out of eggs and flip flapped their way across the sand and into the sea. The whole experience left me with a deep, abiding love of these extraordinary creatures, and a completely new level of respect for the challenges that face them during their lives.

In your experience, what are the largest threats facing the wildlife and communities of Coastal East Africa?

I think the largest threats there are similar to the great threats facing the natural world all across our planet. We humans are the root cause of almost all of the issues. They’re problems like pollution, over-fishing and the annihilation of life in our oceans, loss of natural habitat as human settlements and industrial development encroaches on the natural world, and of course the enormous problems created by our changing climate. These are colossal issues, but they’re not insurmountable. We need to work together, now, to create a better world and a more sustainable future.  

Do you have a message to share with supporters of the Lamu project?

Our world faces immense challenges, almost all of them caused by us. We must strive and work to protect our natural world on behalf of all us who depend on it or love it, and – of course – for the benefit of for future generations as well.

One of Mike's colleagues with a mairne turtle during a patrol and tagging excercise, Mwongo Shariff beach, Rubu Island © WWF-KenyaOne of Mike’s colleagues with a mairne turtle during a patrol and tagging excercise, Mwongo Shariff beach, Rubu Island © WWF-Kenya

Find out more about Simon Reeve’s work with us.

You can find out more about our work on the ground from WWF-Kenya’s marine team in Mike Olendo’s blog.

We are grateful to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for supporting our conservation and community work in Lamu.

Do you love turtles too?  Leave us a comment

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