Turtle Watching - The Cape Verde Islands

Joanne Mutton, who works in our commercial department, joined an evening excursion on the Island of Sal to witness the elusive and endangered Loggerhead Turtle during nesting season.

CONTRIBUTOR

CONTRIBUTOR
Joanne Mutton works in The Cape Verde Experience commercial department. Here she talks about an unforgettable experience with endangered turtles.

 

It is 9pm and our guide picks us up from our hotel in Sal. We drive to the beach through the silent tropical night and arrive after 20 minutes at the impressive beach of Costa da Fragata which is lightened only by the amazing moonlight and huge number of stars. There is no light allowed since that would disturb the turtles which come to the coast at night to nest during the months of July, August and September.

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After we are briefed on all the procedures, we start our walk to try and find a Loggerhead - an impressive species that nests in Cape Verde and can grow to over a metre long and weigh over 100 kilograms. Expectation is in the air: will we be able to see a turtle? And if so, will we be able to observe the whole nesting process? After walking for about 15 minutes our guide asks us to stay where we are and to be quiet since there is a big dark shadow walking out of the water. We sit down to be sure we don’t disturb the turtle and wait for about 20 minutes until she finds a place to nest and lay her eggs. Only once she starts to lay the eggs does our guide take us in groups of four to observe the amazing little eggs falling into the perfect hole this huge Loggerhead has dug with her back fins. Our guide explains that once turtles start to lay their eggs, it is like they are in a trance and nothing disturbs them - so there is no risk that the turtle will be disturbed.

Not only did we get to see this amazing sight, but we learnt a great deal about the turtles and the vital conservation work carried out by Turtle SOS on Sal and also the Turtle Foundation and Naturalia, based on the island of Boa Vista. The Loggerhead Turtle lays an average of 85 eggs and may return to the beach up to 7 times during the nesting season, at intervals of around 13 days. The eggs are about 41mm in diameter and take between 45-70 days to hatch. A newborn baby turtle weighs between 19 and 20 grams.

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I would recommend this turtle watching experience to anyone who visits Sal or Boa Vista during the months of July, August or September, even though there is no guarantee that you will see a turtle every time. You can get a lot of information on turtle conservation projects since the Loggerhead species (Caretta Caretta) is highly endangered and through these turtle walks you can help raise funds that contribute to their conservation.

To find out more visit www.turtlesos.org or www.turtle-foundation.org

Lazing by the pool the next day back at my hotel, I could not help but think about my experience and the small scratch on the surface I made in terms of the effort that goes into preserving and supporting these wonderfully beautiful creatures. It was an amazing experience, one that I will not forget in a long time, and was the perfect way to end my holiday to Cape Verde and the island of Sal, I just can’t wait to return now...

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What you can do:

  • Litter is dangerous, especially plastic bags, which can be mistaken for jellyfish—a favourite turtle food.
  • Support local sea turtle conservation initiatives— they need donations and volunteers.
  • Do not buy or sell turtle products.
  • Avoid damaging incubating nests—do not drive on a turtle nesting beach or use it for camp fires or barbecues.
  • Do not leave large items (such as chairs, umbrellas or vehicles) on nesting beaches at night. These can obstruct a turtle’s path and prevent egg-laying.
  • Do not approach or photograph any turtles that have not yet laid their eggs.
  • Approach from behind, keep low to the ground and move away if the turtle shows signs of distress.
  • Never disturb turtle eggs or hatchlings and never photograph hatchlings – they are very sensitive to light.
  • Limit viewing to 30 minutes at a time.
  • Only use reputable agencies or registered charities for turtle watching as there are numerous, illegal operators that are no benefit to the turtle or their charities.  Please check with your representative.
 

Discover more about Cape Verde

To find out more about Cape Verde and holidays visit www.capeverde.co.uk or telephone 0845 330 2046 to order a brochure.

View more images and upload yours to www.flickr.com/groups/thecapeverdeexperience

 
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