In Senegal, former eaters of turtles now watch their backup

Au Sénégal, d'anciens mangeurs de tortues veillent désormais à leur sauvegarde

JOAL-FADIOUTH | “Of the greatest eaters of turtles, it has become their greatest protectors”, guffaws Abdou Karim Sall, who is both fisherman and responsible in Senegal of a protected area, through which pass numerous sea turtles.

Here at Joal-Fadiouth, the turtles, “we ate them in the street, we cooked at home”, there is a thirty years, tells the story of Mr. Sall, 56 years old.

The poaching has not gone away, and the turtles in this part of the tropical Atlantic, whether they are green, lutes, or loggerhead, is also exposed to the dangers of bycatch, and pollution.

In 2004, was created in a two-hour drive from Dakar, the marine protected Area (MPA) of Joal-Fadiouth, involving Joal, a fishing port, and Fadiouth, a nearby village built on an island composed of shell middens and a very popular place for tourists.

A marine band of eight kilometres of wide, sandy beaches, a network of mangroves and a savanna zone… all in all 174 square kilometres co-managed by the State, local authorities and women’s associations or fishermen, and dedicated to the defense of the biodiversity as well as to the improvement of the living conditions of the population.

Protecting the turtles is one of the vocations of the AMP.

These excellent swimmers and spend here during their migration to a thousand kilometers between the islands of Cape Verde, in the North, and Guinea-Bissau, to the south, where they lay eggs.

Raise awareness

The journey is not without risk. They sometimes confuse plastic bags with jellyfish, which they love. And to be taken in the net of fishermen.

One of them, who like others has started the migration a little while ago, has just become entangled in the nets of a multicolor pirogue navigates the boundaries of the protected area. The price of a effort intense, four young lads stripped to the waist, hoisted the beast of a hundred pounds aboard, the extract of his trap and remit it to the water.

“This is not to our advantage to eat them, because they contribute to the safeguarding of marine species. The shrimp and octopus abound here, where are the turtles,” explains the head of the crew, Gamar Kane, 32 years.

Fishing provides a living, directly or indirectly, approximately 500 000 Senegalese (out of a population of about 16 million), according to the UN. It is also a way of life in this poor country, and entire communities depend on the length of the coast.

Abdou Karim Sall, as the boss of the local association of fishermen and president of the committee of management of the protection area, sensitizes the populations to the protection of turtles in organizing “cinema-debate.”

Former sellers of turtles have even been “converted” by receiving three canoes to take tourists into the sea, ” he said.

Pharmacopoeia animal

Around 500 per year, these visitors are virtually assured of being able to photograph some of the turtles along the coast by the thousands, even if their number has “declined from approximately 30 % in the past 20 years”, according to Mr. Sall.

With luck, they can also catch a glimpse of a manatee, aquatic mammal of several hundred pounds, grazing peacefully.

All the turtles do not just go and feed in the shallow waters of the coast, maintaining a biotope fragile. From June to October, a few dozen of them stopping to lay eggs on the beaches of Joal. Twenty officers from the marine area and volunteers protect nests with wire mesh.

Forty-five days later, “you come at 6 o’clock in the morning that the predators are not small,” said Mr. Sall. Between the monitor lizards suckers of eggs, the birds after hatching, the burbot once at sea, the chances of survival does not exceed 1 to 1 000, ” he adds.

The fisher-curator, agrees, “the awareness has not worked 100%. “All the fishermen do not reject the turtles and when the fishing is not good, some hunt them,” he says. They can take dozens per day, or more, to pay for gasoline out of their dugout, he says.

Appetite persistent to the meat of the turtle is not the only threat that threatens these animals.

At the end of June, we found the corpse of a young green sea turtle on a beach of Dakar, the belly sliced on the entire length. “His cock and his reproductive organs were collected for reasons +medicinal+,” says Charlotte Thomas, a leader of the senegalese NGO Oceanium.

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