Watch­ing tur­tles take to the sea

Ser­ena Beach Re­sort and Spa opens its hatch­eries

The East African - - FRONT PAGE -

AThe Eastafrican t 3pm we passed by the hatch­eries. There was no ac­tiv­ity. An hour later, a call came. “Come over,” the caller said. “The sea tur­tle eggs have hatched.”

The call was from Tuva Mwahunga, the gen­eral man­ager of the Ser­ena Beach Re­sort and Spa.

My friend and I hur­ried over to one of the three hatch­eries by the beach, along with sev­eral other ho­tel guests and passers-by. Seven baby tur­tles had hatched, and were ready to be re­leased into the ocean.

The site has three 3.5-foot hatch­eries made of wood and a light mesh that ex­poses the nest to nor­mal weather and tem­per­a­ture con­di­tions. The door faces the ocean.

The hatch­lings were fall­ing over each other try­ing to get through the door. We, the spec­ta­tors, formed a hu­man cor­ri­dor for them to pass through and then the door was opened. It was a mad rush to the ocean, as the tide was just be­gin­ning to come in.

Over seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able mounds of sea­weed and dead leaves, the hatch­lings tum­bled for­ward, over­turn­ing and get­ting back up­right, paus­ing ev­ery so of­ten to take a break when the ef­fort seemed too much.

One by one the seven made it into the ocean. We cheered each one on, hop­ing that it would be back in 15 to 50 years to lay its eggs at Shanzu beach on Mom­basa’s coast­line.

“Yes­ter­day we re­leased 61, and 35 the day be­fore,” Mwahunga said.

Over 20 years ago marine ecol­o­gists warned that sea tur­tles were fac­ing ex­tinc­tion within 50 years if ac­tion wasn’t taken to con­serve them.

This prompted Ser­ena Beach Re­sort and Spa in Kenya to es­tab­lish the Sea Tur­tle Con­ser­va­tion Project in 1993 with the aim of pro­tect­ing nest­ing sites on their beach.

“Our ob­jec­tive is also to pre­vent pol­lu­tion of the Coast and build over­all aware­ness of sea tur­tles and the crit­i­cal role they play in our ecosys­tem,” he said.

Ev­ery year, sea tur­tles lay their eggs along the Coast of Kenya be­tween March and June and again from Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber. The eggs hatch af­ter two months.

“The fish­er­men in this area are aware of our con­ser­va­tion­ef­forts. We ask them to let us know when they see a nest. If it is in a safe place, well cam­ou­flaged, we don’t dis­turb it. If it is not, we re­lo­cate the eggs to our hatch­ery. The con­sul­tant nat­u­ral­ist is the one who de­ter­mines whether the eggs need to be moved — for ex­am­ple, if they are laid be­low the high tide wa­ter­mark, on a rocky out­crop or an area with a lot of hu­man ac­tiv­ity and poach­ing,” said Mwahunga.

The most com­mon species are green sea tur­tles, hawks­bill tur­tles and olive ri­d­ley tur­tles. All three are listed on the In­ter­na­tional Union of Con­ser­va­tion of Species’ Red List of threat­ened species as vul­ner­a­ble to crit­i­cally en­dan­gered.

As newly hatched tur­tles crawl from the nest to the sea they mag­net­i­cally im­print the beach lo­ca­tion for their fu­ture re­turn.

Fe­male tur­tles come back to the same place they were born. They dig a hole with their back flip­pers, lay up to 100 soft-shelled eggs, cover the nest with sand and then re­turn to the sea. Tur­tles do not guard their nests.

Tur­tles are threat­ened by ocean habi­tat de­struc­tion, get­ting caught in fish­ing nets and their nests sites be­ing van­dalised. Some com­mu­ni­ties be­lieve tur­tle soup has aphro­disiac ben­e­fits for men.

Mwahunga said, “Fish­er­men who par­tic­i­pate in re­port­ing and pro­tect­ing tur­tle nests are mo­ti­vated by mone­tary re­wards, thus in­creas­ing their in­come and ben­e­fits to their fam­i­lies. We pay $0.5 per egg.”

Lo­cal fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties have been trained by a con­sul­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and Ser­ena Ho­tel’s in-house nat­u­ral­ists to mon­i­tor and re­port on the tur­tle sites.

In 2017, Ser­ena’s sea tur­tle con­ser­va­tion pro­gramme re­ceived the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goal 14: Life be­low Wa­ter award from Eco­tourism Kenya.

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