Turtle rescuers canvasses for more rescues along Lagos coasts

The world’s oceans have been experiencing enormous blooms of jellyfish, apparently caused by overfishing, declining water quality, and rising sea temperatures.

The world’s oceans have been experiencing enormous blooms of jellyfish, apparently caused by overfishing, declining water quality, and rising sea temperatures. Jellyfish prefer the warmer waters that are a result of global climate change. In Nigeria today, fishermen have observed a large increase in the number of jellyfish in their nets and also a decrease in fishing populations.

This makes the protection of Nigeria’s leatherback sea turtles, the main predators of jellyfish, critical. If leatherback sea turtles were to disappear, the increase in jellyfish populations could continue and could have devastating consequences on Nigeria’s fishing population and worsen food insecurity while affecting the livelihoods of millions. 

To ensure a safer environment for turtles and enlighten the populace, the first edition of Turtle Rescue roundtable was recently held at Lagos Yacht Club, Magazine Point. This was powered by the newly formed conservation group, Green Action Nigeria which aims to protect the environment and create awareness of the economic benefits of conservation and reforestation.  
According to the organisers, healthy oceans need sea turtles. Nigeria also needs sea turtles. Reversing the decline of critically endangered species such as the leatherback turtle will directly economically impact the Nigerian coastal communities by having healthier oceans and bringing fish back into the artisan fishermen’s nets. More fish in the nets equals more income and other economic benefits to these declining fishing communities

The roundtable brought together many stakeholders including individuals, governmental and non-governmental organisations and rescue organisations to discuss strategies to save and conserve the critically endangered turtle species frequenting the Lagos coasts of Nigeria and in turn positively impact the Lagos fishing communities. 

Discussions centered on raising public awareness of sea turtle welfare, their purpose in our fishing ecosystem and the consequences of their extinction, by spreading awareness through formal education, training, and networking with local artisan fishermen and relevant government and non-government bodies. The roundtable also talked about the need to provide support to current rescue participants and facilities for the reception, care, treatment and release of sea turtles.

A Marine Scientist at the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), Mrs Oyeronke Adegbile, who presented an overview of the current situation stated that the sea turtle is the flagship species of the ocean and Nigeria is home to five species of turtle who all have a role to play in our ecosystem.

She said: “The Leatherback turtle feeds on jellyfish which are poisonous to fish. The Green cardturtle eats sea grass and keeps the ocean oxygenated. Turtles also fertilise our beaches when they come ashore to lay their eggs. 

“Sea Turtles are endangered due to litter, fishing nets, plastic, ghost fishing, oil and chemical pollution. Female turtles come to shore to lay their eggs and are then in danger of being caught and sold for meat. Turtles are also caught in fishing nets which they damage. 

“Turtles are considered endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN) and are currently on the Red list which means they are threatened with extinction. There is need to create awareness through beach clean-ups, compensating fishermen, and tracking turtles,”, Adegbile said.

At the event, Chinedu Mogbo of Green Fingers Wildlife Initiative spoke of his experiences in turtle rescue in prime locations such as Victoria Garden City (VCG), Eko Beach and Chevron outside major housing developments. He was often surrounded by area boys demanding compensation. He said at the point of rescue the turtle is often harmed or stressed, so needs rehabilitation before returning to the sea. The Lagos Yacht Club has been supporting him by providing a rescue boat to take the turtles back out to sea for release. 
Doyin Ogunye of Kids Beach Club has been rescuing turtles since 2016. She has set up a Sea Turtle Sanctuary where turtles can be rehabilitated before being returned to the ocean. She also discussed the problem of paying for a turtle as this creates a demand.

Also, Chief Lekan Bakare of the Lekan Bakare Foundation highlighted the need for community engagement. As a Chief, Royal Father, Aro and Deputy to the King, he is playing an active role in community awareness. He was also interested in data gathering, research and the geo-tagging of turtles.

Akin Disu of Pop Beach in Ilashe stressed a community-based response and the importance of working with the local fishermen. The local villages along the coast have patrols at night which could be used to protect the nesting turtles. Communities could also be engaged through storytelling.  

Dr. Mark Ofua of Saint Marks Animal Hospital emphasised the importance of education, working with communities and the possible compensation of fishermen with nets, smoking kilns and fridges rather than money. As a Vet, he stressed the need for a standard operating procedure (SOP) and post-release monitoring and tagging. 

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