Leatherback and Loggerhead sea turtles nest primarily in the south of Mozambique. The majority of this nesting action occurs within the Ponta Do Ouro Marine partial reserve (PPMR), which is lucky because they have managed to curb the poaching of nesting turtles and raiding of eggs. However outside of the PPMR nesting effort is scattered along the coast and the turtles are at high risk of illegal harvest or becoming by-catch in coastal artisanal fisheries on the way to returning to their mating and nesting areas.
A few years ago, we discovered that there seemed to be a relatively stable consistent number of leatherback and loggerhead turtles nesting along Manhame Beach, 10km north of Zavora near by to Dunes de Dovela Eco Lodge. These turtles, unlike the rest of their nesting cohort in the PPMR face significantly more risks during the process to come ashore and nest on this remote beach. Since then, with this discovery, we have began to focus our efforts here at this location with the support of Alex, Thomas and the rest of the team at Dunes de Dovela Eco Lodge.
Dovela village, is remote and there are not many opportunities for employment. Many people rely on fishing for subsistence. Here in Dovela, the majority of the fishing is done from the beach, with hand lines or reels, unlike other parts of the surrounding coast a number of fishing practices such do not occur, from a combination of either logistical, environmental or financial reasons. Either way, the fishing community of Dovela have a much lesser impact on nesting and foraging turtles than other nearby communities.
In the past few seasons, we have been collaborating with fishers so that when they encounter a nesting turtle or track this information is reported back to the lodge and then appropriate plans are made to ensure the safe incubation of the eggs in-situ. This concept is working well and fishers are enthusiastic to listen and learn about the turtles and they often accompany us when we make an expedition to survey a nest site or excavate a nest to determine hatch success.
We also wanted to know more about the type of fishing in the area and understand the attitudes towards fishing for turtles and how frequently they might encounter turtles and their general ideas about changes in marine resources in their area and perceptions about the future, so Alex (Dunes de Dovela) has been helping to collect interviews with fishers to document this. The interviews have helped us to understand the local context much better and for the first time to document some of the traditional values sea turtles have within the fishers culture. The interviews have also highlighted to us, just how little many people in the area know about the life cycle of a turtle and whilst they knew there were laws created to protect turtles, did not understand why these laws were needed.
Seizing this opportunity and the fact that it is the beginning of the nesting season, we decided now more than ever, was the appropriate time to host a informative outreach session about sea turtles, their biology, threats and steps necessary for protection. After consulting the village chief, a time and place was agreed upon and the local school, Dovela EPC was selected for our presentation.
Notices were pinned to trees throughout the village inviting all to attend.
We were lucky enough to get a full house for our presentation. Over 45 adults attended, including village chiefs and the tradition chief, the staff from Dovela, many of the fishermen and more than 100 children from the school.
We spoke about how turtles are long lived, just like us and that they reach sexual maturity at a very late age (mean age to reach sexual maturity in western indian ocean loggerhead turtles is 36 years). Most of the audience did not know either of these facts.
We also, discussed the lifecycle of the turtle and the different habitats and threats a turtle faces in each stage.
Where possible we gave local examples, of human created threats that resulted in turtle mortality in surrounding areas, like how fishers using gill nets were responsible for the capture and resultant drowning of a mature loggerhead turtle in Praia de Rocha the week before. Or how we had found evidence of plastic pollution inside juvenile green turtles resident on our inshore reefs.
At the end of the presentation, we had time to discuss ideas, answer questions and were humbled to receive some positive feedback and gratitude from the older fishermen. One in particular, addressed the room to tell us how he did not know about the old age or late reproductive age for turtles. He went on to say that as a boy before the civil war, he and his brothers and sisters were raised eating turtles in the season, they did not know any reason not to. After the war, the Portuguese tried to disseminate ideas of protecting turtles throughout the villages, however they did not explain why? He agreed that in recent years, there were all seeing fewer turtles returning to their beaches. Now that he knew about the hard life of the turtle and the hassles it must overcome to return to their beaches, he understood why they must work together to protect their turtles. He and several other elders made statements to the room agreeing that it was necessary as a community to act as a unite force to protect their turtles and allow their future generations the chance to see and celebrate such magnificent creatures.
Dovela- a proud and united force for their tartarugas.