17 year old Maisha is leading the local community in turtle conservation in Ukunda, coastal Kenya. Through interaction with the local community Maisha has learned indigenous ways of saving turtles. She started ‘Tiwi Turtle Police’ initiative with the help of her father. The initiative runs in cooperation with local fishing community, Prowin Pro Nature, and the Kenya Wildlife Service.
The rangers, from their indigenous experience analyse the expected levels of high tides to determine whether the nests are in safe distance to prevent them from being washed-off. Where the nests are within high-tide area or vulnerable to predators and poachers or the turtles have laid eggs in public places such as camps, they transfer the eggs to a safer location to hatch.
It’s twilight in Tiwi beach. Tiny turtle green turtles are hurrying to the Indian Ocean. They are on harm’s length of crows, crabs, dogs ,sea gulls, and poachers. Those that will make it into the sea will swim lengths and breadth of the ocean .The female will return someday at the coastline to lay eggs.
At the same time, members of Tiwi Turtle Police have risen before the sun. They will patrol the 12 Km of coastline. They are on look-out for turtle nests as they pick waste-plastic bottles, polythene bags, bottle caps , toothbrushes. Turtles often confuse plastics with jellyfish or seaweed which ingest and die.
They have gathered dozens of eggs. Some eggs could not be saved, they were bartered by the high tides. Canines-dogs and wild cats too are on the prowl. The eggs rescue must be done within 12 hours to preserve their viability.
With palm woven baskets, inside the turtle eggs safely lie .The rangers are on their way to hatchery where they have dug holes in the sand and set-up natural conditions for the eggs to hatch. The hatchery holes must be dug in areas with no humus, weed , or a lot of roots. The sand temperature must be moderate. They have to be careful lest sea water seeps from ground and comes into contact with the eggs- salt water can kill development embryos, this is according to Swalehe Mkambe, who is a local fisherman and member of the Tiwi Turtle Police. The nesting area they have set is secure from predators, poaching, vandalism , and other threats such as pollution or tidal flooding.
The hatchlings are safe because the rangers are their personal bodyguards. They have been watching, and waiting for the eggs to hatch. Forty-forty-five days later the eggs have hatched. The careful monitoring has increased hatchling’s survival. The rangers transfer the turtle hatchling to the sea thus increasing their chances of survival.
Kenya’s coastline is a nesting ground for a variety of turtle species, including leather-backs, green turtles -listed by IUCN as endangered, and The Hawk-bill, listed by IUCN as critically endangered.
According to Maisha, in 2020 they saved 5000 turtles in enormously boosted survival rates of turtle nests whose prevailing average rate of survival is 1-2% according to experts.
Salim, who is a member of Tiwi Turtle Police is happy with the results of the turtle saving, he remarks.
“Since 2019 we have not received any report of anyone hunting down turtles, so the number of turtles that have survived has gone up and our people have begun to understand and participate in turtle protection”
As seen with Maisha Madrugugar, children can play a crucial role in conservation of turtles.
“Turtles are an indicative specie, when seas have turtles, it means the seas are healthy, without them , the whole ecosystem can break down ” says Douglas Maina, project coordinator at Kenya Sea Turtle Conservation and Management Trust (Kescom), an organization that has pooled together community based organizations in the efforts towards turtle conservation . By learning leadership, innovation , and environmental activism from a fellow child, children all over the world will learn how to be better environmental custodians and help save the planet.”
Michigan State University Extension suggests that adults can take advantage of teachable moments, when a child expresses in conservation, to expand on it, adding that we do our best when we have interest in something.