Turtles inspection before release into the sea. PHOTO/Jasmine Atieno

Coastal communities unite to save turtles from extinction

By Jasmine Otieno | People Daily

Turtles inspection before release into the sea. PHOTO/Jasmine Atieno
Turtles inspection before release into the sea. PHOTO/Jasmine Atieno

A report by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the fisheries department has indicated that the world population of sea turtles is estimated to have declined by 80 per cent over the last 50 years. This decline has been attributed to many factors, among them plastic pollution and illegal fishing.

Omar Hassan, a boat operator at Nyali beach in Mombasa County says such is also the case at the Kenyan Coast, and the menace is affecting both fish and turtles.

He says by-catch (fish or other marine species that are caught unintentionally while fishing), in set gillnets and trawl nets have caused turtles to either drown through entanglement or to be opportunistically harvested by the fishermen.

“Turtles are targeted for their eggs, meat, skin and shells. Sometimes it is intentional, but there are times when it is accidental when turtles alongside fish end up in the trawl and they are not released back to the sea. Sometimes fishermen set up traps for crabs and unluckily a turtle ends up in there. But there are irresponsible fishermen who just target the animals and since they are scarce, their population is endangered. I have seen fishermen in Kilifi County and even Mombasa doing this and I can attest that the turtle population has really declined over the last 20 years,” shares  Omar.

Marine stakeholders witness the release of 147 turtles into the sea at Nyali beach while marking World Turtle Day. PHOTO/Jasmine Atieno
Marine stakeholders witness the release of 147 turtles into the sea at Nyali beach while marking World Turtle Day. PHOTO/Jasmine Atieno

He adds that some communities believe turtle oil has a medicinal and spiritual value, making them a target for poachers as well. While he is aware of the effects of overfishing, he shares that not all fishermen have been well sensitised on the importance of the turtles to the marine ecosystem, especially those from rural parts of the coast.

Turtles hold significant economic, ecological and social values to humanity, but due to the high demand for commercialised sea turtle products, they have been classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ marine species by the World Conservation Union and are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, with the loggerhead, leatherback and olive ridley classified as vulnerable, the green as endangered and the hawksbill as critically endangered.

Threatened Ecosystems

Kenya is home to a variety of turtles and according to a recent KWS report, the population of turtles in Kenya is estimated at 450 individuals along the coastline. They include; the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), and leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). The coastal ecosystems, including seagrasses, mangroves, coral reefs, and sand bars in the Kenyan waters have proven to be excellent places for the thriving of turtle populations.  However, most of these ecosystems are threatened by pollution, climate change, population growth, and mismanagement of resources.

In a move to sensitise the community on the importance of conserving the turtles, the Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife and Heritage, Wilson Sossion together with Mombasa Senator, Mohammed Faki, led the Mombasa residents to release 147 turtles into the Ocean at Nyali Beach in June. They both called upon locals to end turtle fishing for both conservation of marine ecosystem and the promotion of tourism.

Releasing baby turtles into the oceans gives them a higher chance of survival away from preying birds and other predators. While only about 10 of the released number will survive through to adulthood, the female sea turtles return to where they were hatched to lay eggs if they survive.

In 2005, KWS signed the Indian Ocean South East Asia Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding, which establishes a framework through which states of the Indian Ocean and South East Asia region can work together to conserve and replenish depleted sea turtles population.

Speaking at the event, which also marked World Turtles Day, Sossion emphasised the need for harmonised efforts in protection of the marine creatures.

“The Kenyan side is well protected and from the scientific and technical information we are receiving is that the turtles would like to move and stay more on this side. But there is a need to collaborate across and outside Kenya because these are not species restricted to the Kenyan domain. They migrate all the way to South Africa and Indonesia and there is a need for all the nations to work together for the conservation of the turtles,” he said.

KWS, Acting Director General Dr Erastus Kenga emphasised on the importance of sea turtles. “They are part of the wider ecosystem species that are there. On World Turtle Day, we released green turtles, which feed purely on the seagrass, so they are edible, they provide very good oil. They not only confine themselves in Kenya, but the little ones that we released are going to move all the way to Mozambique, South Africa and when they are about 25 years old, they will come and nest in the same places that they have been hatched, so as a country, we are working with our neighbours, Somalia,  Tanzania and all the other countries along the Indian Ocean coast to make sure that we are eco-conscious across the borders,” he said.

Turtles seen at Coconut Beach Lodge. PHOTO/Jasmine Atieno
Turtles seen at Coconut Beach Lodge. PHOTO/Jasmine Atieno

To curb some of these threats posed to turtles, several actions have been taken to make sustainable changes to the coastal ecosystems.

Dr Mohammed Omar, Principal Research Scientist at Wildlife Research and Training Institute, says one of the efforts underway for conservation of the marine species includes the revival of the Sea Turtle Conservation Strategy at the Coast. 

The Sea Turtles Conservation initiative involves incentivising community members and volunteers for every nest reported and each successful hatchling. Together with other stakeholders Sea Turtle Conservation conducts intensive awareness creation to bring the community on board and help them to form community-based Turtle Conservation Groups (TCGs), which also assist in monitoring. “The season we are currently in, since the beginning of April, is one which the turtles normally come to lay their eggs and this will go on untill the end of the year. According to our research, every time a turtle starts to lay eggs, it takes about 60 days for the hatching to begin,” shared Dr Omar.

Nest monitoring

Close monitoring of the nests is important, especially in protecting the eggs from other predators, such as crabs, ants and birds. Once they emerge, hatchlings make bite-sized meals for birds, crabs and a host of predators in the ocean. Increased human activities, such as the building of hotels along the beach have also been a threat to the turtle nests.

Other efforts by the community, include strategies to prevent the use of unsustainable and illegal fishing gear, locally managed cleanups and waste collections, community-managed marine protected areas, and community-led mangrove replanting and management. This has helped reduce by-catch and also cases of turtles drowning through entanglement.  Most of these initiatives though, have not been able to sustain themselves due to a lack of finances.

To address this, Lt General Walter Koipaton, KWS Board of Trustees, emphasised that more efforts need to be put into partnership with the community. “Taking care of these creatures shouldn’t just happen on such a day only, it should be an ongoing exercise. We are also keen as a board of trustees that proceeds from conservation also get to also benefit the community so that we can partner and become one force for good,” said Koipaton. 

This article was produced with support from JRS Biodiversity Foundation and Media for Environment Science Health and Agriculture (MESHA).


African countries urged to keep vigilance on COVID-19

Prof Jayne Byakika of WHO: She says that reduced public perception of risk and pandemic fatigue have led to drastically low use of public health and social measures.

By Stephen Misori I misori.village@gmail.com

The increased reluctance for vaccine uptake and the spread of misinformation on COVID-19 continue to Impede the implementation of crucial public health interventions, a high ranking WHO official has said.

Prof Jayne Byakika, the Regional Incident Manager for COVID-19, said at a media science café that over the last five weeks alone, 1.7 million new cases of COVID-19 have been reported globally, with over 10,000 deaths recorded during the same period.

Prof Byakika said that reduced public perception of risk and pandemic fatigue has led to drastically reduced use of public health and social measures, such as masks, washing of hands and social distancing.

“Even though the COVID -19 situation in Africa remains stable, there are at least 6,000 new cases reported. This in reality makes the virus a threat that could still take a long time to contain. It is however notable that the continent registered the lowest number of cases as recorded a year ago,” she said.

Prof Byakika, however, warned that the virus retains an ability to evolve into new variants with serious unpredictable characteristics. She urged authorities to enhance surveillance and reporting on hospitalisations, intensive care unit admissions and deaths to help understand the current impact on health situations and systems.

“The pandemic has exited the acute stage and transited to the protracted stage, and this is not an indication of lowering the guard. We must appreciate the interventions put in place by the World Health Organisation such as vaccination, which is one of the life-saving tools,” she said.

While responding to questions from journalists on vaccine uptake, Prof Byakika confirmed that globally, only 70 per cent have received at least one dose. She, however, decried the low vaccine uptake in Africa where only 36 per cent have at least taken one dose and a paltry 30 per cent having completed the

“We encourage people to take vaccination since we do not know what kind of variant could be next. It is serious that only four countries have hit the target. We acknowledge Mauritius, Liberia, Seychelles and Rwanda for their contribution in containing the spread of COVID-19. All other African countries must take charge of the situation by encouraging their citizens to go for vaccinations,” she said.

In January 2023, WHO, in a special report, took issue with the elderly and healthcare workers for their laxity in going for vaccination. The report showed that only 51 per cent and 47 per cent of the target elderly population and healthcare workers, respectively, had completed primary vaccination series in 23
out of 47 countries.

Prof Byakika urged the State Parties to observe the temporary recommendations issued by WHO director, encouraging them to maintain momentum for COVID-19 vaccination to achieve 100 per cent coverage of high priority groups.

“The WHO director has advised the improvement on reporting of SARS-CoV-2 surveillance data to WHO and the increase in uptake of medical countermeasures. In that case, State Parties should enhance access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. There is a need to maintain strong national response capacity and preparation for future events to avoid the occurrence of a panic-neglect cycle,” she said.

In its latest report, WHO committed to continue supporting research for improved vaccines that would reduce transmission, and continue to adjust any remaining international travel related measures based on risk assessment.

The science café was held amid media reports that Kenya could be experiencing a silent surge in the number of patients requiring oxygen as the country faces a new wave of COVID-19.

China, Prof Byakika said, is currently experiencing a new wave fuelled by XBB, which is expected to cause 65 million infections per week by June 2023. In Beijing, the number of new infections has quadrupled in four weeks.

XBB is also causing smaller waves in other parts of the world, including India, Singapore and the United States.XBB.1.16, the Arcturus variant, is a descendant of Omicron, with some reports suggesting it causes conjunctivitis or pink eye.

Speaking during the ninth Africa regional meeting of the Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (Capsca) in Mombasa, experts from WHO and Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned African countries against relaxing COVID-19 protocols, saying the world is not out of the woods yet. 

They added that the COVID-19 protocols were essential to control and manage any medical emergencies.

The experts also urged African countries to deploy public health officers in all international airports to screen passengers. 

Dr Miriam Nanyunja, WHO Regional Advisor for Risk Management and Preparedness, said public health officers in airports would help screen passengers and manage public health emergencies. 

“It’s critical to have public health officers stationed at airports to work with facility officers,” said Dr Nyanyuja, a public health expert.

Why recycling is not a solution to plastic pollution

Journalists follow proceedings during a sensitisation workshop by CEJAD on plastic pollution in Nairobi. (Photo Credit_ CEJAD)

By Godfrey Ombogo

Recycling is not really a solution to plastic pollution, experts have warned. This is because plastics contain additives that contain chemicals and make recycling toxic and complicated.

The recycling companies also use technology that produce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and further harm the environment, says David Azoulay, the Director of Environmental Health Program at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). CIEL uses the power of law to protect the environment,
promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.

Azoulay says plastics produce over 13,000 chemicals, 3,000 of which are toxic and not much is known about 80 percent of the remaining 1,000.

“These chemicals in the plastic lifecycle have serious health impacts, especially on our immune systems and sensory organs. The plastic that goes into our respiratory system is 10 times more than what is found in the oceans,” he says.

Azoulay spoke during a media sensitization meeting in Nairobi on ending plastic pollution. The meeting was organized by the Centre for Environment Justice and Development (CEJAD), a non-governmental organization that promotes sound management of chemicals and waste in order to protect the natural environment and wellbeing of the Kenyan people, especially vulnerable populations.

CEJAD was part of a team that sent a proposed resolution to the World Health Organization (WHO) to be adopted during the 67th World Health Assembly on May 24, 2023.

The draft resolution titled, ‘The impact of chemicals, waste and pollution on human health’, seeks to compel plastic producers to make known the chemicals contained in the products to make disposing of them easier and less toxic. 

“Concerned that the production, consumption and disposal of plastic products, including microplastics and related chemicals, which can be released to the environment, may potentially impact human, plant and animal health as well as the environment, directly or indirectly,” reads the draft resolution.

The resolution was proposed by Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, European Union and its Member States, Mexico, Monaco, Peru, Switzerland and Uruguay.

CEJAD Executive Director Griffins Ochieng says even though Africa is not a major producer of chemicals, its population suffers most from the impacts of highly hazardous chemicals, especially in plastics, and pesticides.

“When we look at the harm caused by plastic pollution, we need to end the production of toxic chemicals,” he said on the sideline of the World Health Assembly.

During the sensitization workshop, Mr Ochieng told journalists that toxins in plastics are now finding themselves into the food chain in Kenya.

In April, CEJAD released a preliminary report of a study that aimed to determine whether persistent organic pollutants (POPs) find their way into consumer products and human food in Kenya due to waste management practices such as recycling, dumping or burning. 

The study found that egg samples from free-range chicken in certain parts of Nairobi contained levels of dioxins and furans that were two to eight times higher than the EU regulatory limit of 2.5 pg TEQ/g in fat.

The eggs were sampled from areas around Dandora dumpsite, where waste burns or is burnt; Ngara Market, where there is an e-waste dismantling site; Mirema, where there is a community cooker that uses plastics as fuel; and Nanyuki near a dumpsite with open burning and e-waste disposal. 

The results show that the highest level of dioxins and furans was in eggs from the Dandora dumpsite, followed by eggs from the Ngara market and Mirema. The sum of dioxins and furans was 100 and 111 times, respectively, above the EU regulatory limit of 5 pg TEQ/g fat in two pooled egg samples from the Ngara market.

“Based on these findings, the average per capita consumption of eggs in Kenya (36 eggs per year), would exceed the TDI [tolerable daily intake] for dioxins and furans by 5 to 6 times,” reads the report. 

“In addition, we can also say that a person eating just one egg from the Ngara market would be exposed to a cumulative dose of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds that would span nearly 200 days to more than 250 days, based on the TDI set by EFSA [European Food Safety Authority].”

The sensitization workshop came ahead of the Africa Waste is Wealth Series (AWWS) Conference in Nairobi organized by Taka Taka ni Mali Foundation, in collaboration with Alliance for Science and East African Business Council (EABC).

On the second day of the three-day conference, Taka Taka ni Mali Patron Mary Ngechu said it is possible for Africa to achieve zero waste to the landfill in the two to three years if the continent’s governments adopt circular waste management.

“It will not take us 100 years to get to zero waste because we have learnt from those who did it before us. Let us turn our waste into wealth,” said Ms Ngechu.

Meanwhile, Azoulay says the permanent solution for plastic pollution is detoxification of plastics that are produced going forward, and not recycling.

“We currently do not have a good solution for plastics that are already out there, only less bad ones, but we can find a solution for what we are yet to produce,” he said.