This week we're excited to welcome our first ever guest writer, Kerry Howard-Lad.

Kerry is a Sky Employee who is passionate about our oceans and has been keen to share the amazing work of Project Biodiversity, a non-profit organisation working to preserve the island of Sal's natural habitat. To celebrate World Sea Turtle Day she'll be sharing a mini-series following the lives of newly hatched turtles, providing insight into the challenges they face when it comes to climate change and plastic pollution and most importantly, sharing what we can do to help. Take it away Kerry!

World Sea Turtle Day, June 16th

On World Sea Turtle Day, it seems fitting to highlight the effects that plastic pollution has on these incredible creatures, as well as focus on a team of amazing people who are currently working to combat this and ensure the highest possible survival chances for sea turtles.

Sal is one of several islands in the Cabo Verde archipelago off the west coast of Africa. A sub-tropical paradise, Cabo Verde is not only an up and coming tourist destination, but also the third largest nesting site for loggerhead turtles in the world. Tourism has seen rapid growth over the last decade to this beautiful African island, which brings with it added obstacles for the already difficult life of the turtles living there.

The Journey of a Turtle

The loggerhead turtle is an amazing creature. From hatching to nesting, the life of a loggerhead turtle is truly miraculous. Their journey starts when a female turtle lays their eggs (‘nesting’), usually on a beach close to where she herself hatched.  Although during her adolescent years she could have been swimming thousands of miles from her birth beach, her incredible GPS system takes her back to where it all began. FACT: Sea turtles have the oldest and most advanced GPS signal in the world, one that doesn’t require a signal! They travel thousands of miles across the ocean from where they first hatched; returning to the very same beach, or close to it, to lay their own eggs.

 Females will come into sexual maturity at around 17, and when she is ready, will instinctively make her way to a breeding area. There she will mate, often with more than one male. FACT: The impact of climate change is devastating on turtles. For example, as gender is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated, it is believed that currently 90% are females. After resting for around a month while her eggs are fertilised, she will make her way to her beach to nest. Turtles spend most of their life at sea, and only the females will come to shore to nest. A female loggerhead turtle can lay between 80 and 100 eggs per nest and can nest between 2 to 8 times per season, that is no mean feat!

When a Turtle Nests

Turtle nesting is a breath-taking sight to behold, which everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. As night falls, the turtles begin their journey to the beach of their choice to find a spot of seclusion, so that the nesting process to conclude. The loggerhead turtle hauls her swollen body out of the water and across the beach, slowly dragging herself through the mounds of soft sand to find her place of solace. Once this would have been a straightforward journey. However, now the journey is fraught with obstacles, as beaches around the world have become overrun with plastic pollution.   If she makes it safely without getting caught in plastic netting, or other plastic pollution, she can nest in peace. 

Next, the loggerhead turtle uses her back flippers to dig a hole in the sand big enough to lay her eggs into, and once sure that it is safe to do so, she enters a trance-like state whilst laying her eggs.  Once the process is complete, she once again uses her flippers to completely cover the eggs in a blanket of sand, before returning to sea. FACT: Only 1 in 1000 Sea Turtles born will survive to maturity.

The Plastic Killer; A Sad Reality!

A worldwide survey carried out by Exeter University in 2017 found that the global population numbers of sea turtles has noticeably decreased in recent years. The rise of plastic refuse in the ocean and on beaches is killing turtles, with a disproportionate impact on hatchlings and young turtles. Hundreds of sea turtles die each year after becoming entangled in rubbish, and it is estimated that 91% of entangled turtles die, with others often dragging plastic debris with them. FACT: It is estimated that globally 52% of all Sea Turtles have eaten plastic. Having ingested just one piece of plastic, a turtle has a 22% chance of dying; with 14 pieces this raises to 50%.

A helping hand in Sal; Project Biodiversity

Organisations such as Project Biodiversity look to combat the devastating effects of plastic pollution. Project Biodiversity is a non-profit organisation based in Sal, working to preserve the island’s natural habitat. The organisation focuses heavily on wildlife conservation, particularly sea turtles. Fully reliant on volunteers who work and live with the turtles throughout the season (June – November), their aim is to help protect these astonishing creatures in the face of increasing tourism to the island, plastic pollution, and the climate emergency. 

The work that PB carries out ranges from clearing beaches during turtle season to untangling turtles from plastic and helping them to on their way.  They now take some of the eggs laid and move them to a monitored area on the beach whereby they will log them, protect them, and take the hatchlings to a “safe” beach which is clear of debris for release.  The work they do is crucial to help preserve the turtles for the future.

To see more of their work in action, check out their YouTube channel here.