March to August is the peak turtle nesting season in Lamu. So far, we’ve recorded 116 nests – one which was a hawksbill nest and the rest were green turtle nests. Not surprisingly, we’re seeing that nest sites are most common in locations where there is the least human activity. While we wait for the hatchlings to emerge, how much do you know about the turtle nesting season?
During this nesting season we work with a team of volunteers, who work tirelessly, night and day to help protect adult female turtles, nests and hatchlings. Beach patrols take place day and night on nesting beaches in Lamu to look for evidence of turtle nesting, such as crawl marks in the sand or sand disturbance.
While on patrol the turtle nests are monitored. This can be surprising tricky as turtles are superb at disguising their nests to help protect their eggs from predators. If nests are found in areas that put the eggs at risk of predation or that are below the high-water mark and therefore likely to be submerged, we move nests to safer locations following an established protocol.
During night patrols we’re sometimes lucky enough to find the adult female turtle when she’s in the middle of nesting. Throughout a nesting season females may come back to nest up to five to eight different clutches of eggs on the same beach with up to 150 eggs in each clutch, with 12-15 days apart. They then migrate back to their feeding grounds after this to come back for the same experience two to three years later.
Female turtles that come on to the beach are tagged with a unique number. This enables us to build a database and develop a better understanding of population demographics and individual behaviour, which helps us to plan conservation management interventions.
Nesting takes three-to four hours, so there’s a good opportunity to spot individuals for tagging – but we wait until the nesting ritual is complete to fit the tags to ensure we don’t disturb the turtle. If she already has a tag then we note down the number and record it onto our database.
We closely monitor nest sites when we know it’s about time for hatchlings to emerge so that we can help the hatchlings safely reach the ocean without being attacked by land based predators, such as crabs, sea gulls, foxes and hyenas.
13 youth volunteers have been helping the WWF team during this nesting period. When asked what inspires them to work with marine turtles, this is what some of them had to say:
“Participating in turtle conservation and working in sea turtle conservation has made me develop a sense of admiration for these magnificent creatures. They are strong, resilient and yet humble creatures and it is astounding how many challenges they have to endure to survive: both human and natural challenges. They also play a vital role to the balance of marine ecosystems. As such, it sad how these innocent creatures have to suffer from injustices of man such as oil spills, coastal development, poaching and unsustainable fishing practices.”
“By engaging in sea turtle conservation work with WWF, I have seen remarkable impacts on the extent at which the locals have benefitted. Women empowerment, improved education facilities and positive attitudes towards social and economic development are just a few of the benefits that sea turtle conservation have brought to the villages of the Lamu Seascape.”
Why is Lamu important for marine turtles?
Lamu seascape is home to five of the seven known marine turtle species: green, hawksbill, loggerhead, olive ridley, and leatherback. Of these, green, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles are known to nest in Kenya, and in fact, around 50% of all turtle nesting along the Kenyan coast is in the Lamu seascape.
Marine turtles are long-lived, slow-maturing species that play an important and diverse role in the ecosystems within which they exist, acting as consumers, prey and competitors. They subsist on a mix of sea grass, sponges, conches, jelly fish and algae and utilise beach, dune and marine habitats – making them an umbrella species for coastal ecosystem integrity as well as a good indicator of ocean health.
All of the marine turtles found in Lamu seascape are considered critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
Tune in again nest time to find out more from me about the threats facing the Lamu seascape and what we’re doing to help protect this vital stretch of the East African coast.
We are grateful to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for supporting our conservation and community work in Lamu.