The Watamu Marine Park is part of a United Nations Biosphere Reserve consisting of kilometres of stunning beaches, coral reefs and a marine area bubbling with flora and fauna. In 1997, the Watama Turtle Watch Program was established with the aim of protecting nesting sea turtles. This unique program has rescued over 15,000 turtles since 2000 and has been instrumental in not only conserving sea turtles, but also in establishing critical education and community outreach programs.
Travellers can now visit Local Ocean Conservation as an EcoVisitor and participate in a “behind-the-scenes” experience with the various marine conservation programmes.
What can you expect from an EcoVisitor experience?
There is a lot that the EcoVisitors will be involved in and there are always lots of projects on to get stuck into!
A team of nest monitors go out on patrols every day looking for nesting turtles to keep them safe while they are laying their eggs. Nests that have been laid are checked daily to monitor signs of hatching or predation but also to answer questions that people have about sea turtles. It’s all about getting people to realise the precarious state of sea turtle populations, and how dependent they are on the last remaining stretches of natural beach.
Other members of the LOC team are out all day rescuing turtles that become trapped or caught in fishing gear. There are many turtles in the Watamu area and there are many fishermen, so it happens all the time that turtles swim into a net or even swallow a baited fishing hook. LOC works closely with hundreds of fishermen who alert us when they have found a turtle in their nets and the team goes to rescue the turtle. If it is healthy, it will be released back into the ocean. If it is injured or sick, the turtle will be admitted to the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre (TRC).
Once in the TRC, the turtle needs to be fed and closely monitored. Observations about its behaviour and physical condition are all noted down. The eight different turtle tanks need cleaning every day and seagrass needs to be picked for hungry green turtles.
LOC also conducts mangrove restoration work in Mida Creek and patrols the mangroves looking for signs of destructive fishing practices and logging. Mangroves propagules are collected and placed in the on-site mangrove nursery. After they have sprouted and have grown a little bit, they are planted in the most impacted areas.
Apart from the marine conservation efforts, LOC strives to educate as many people as possible about the fragility of the oceans and make them aware how they can make a difference in keeping the oceans healthy. Thousands of local school children visit LOC every year to learn about sea turtles, coral reefs, mangroves and other marine related topics.
By working with local community groups and fishermen, LOC strives to bring about sustainable economic development that will ensure that Kenya’s future generations will have a place that they can be proud to call home. Together with the groups, sources of income other than fishing are developed and LOC guides these groups to manage these projects.
The EcoVisits are not just for people who are passionate about conservation! There is always room for more creative improvement and the Marine Green Garden has some fantastic examples of art pieces made with trash collected from the beach.
With an EcoVisit to Local Ocean Conservation, people make a real difference to the organisation’s work and thereby to the marine environment and the wider community in Watamu.
For more information about an EcoVisitor experience or to enquire about available dates visit: http://wildark.com/travels/watama-bay-local-ocean-conservation-ecovisit-turtle-watch-experience/
Images supplied by Local Ocean Conservation
Images — by Rick de Gaay Fortmann