100 million years. That’s how long sea turtles have swum in the earth’s oceans. These ancients of the sea play an important ecological role, both above and below water, that keeps beaches and oceans healthy. Due to habitat loss and ocean pollution, however, their numbers are declining rapidly. Loggerhead and leatherback turtles, which nest on the coast of Mozambique, are even considered ‘critically endangered’ and ‘endangered’ respectively.
In a bold action to enhance environmental protection, in late 2019, the Mozambican President, Filipe Nyusi, officially declared an Environmental Protected Area (EPA) in Mozambique’s Maputo Province. This EPA saw the ocean protection zone extended from just 3 nautical miles off the coast to 18. This offers a buffer against illegal fish trawlers that not only catch unsustainably large swathes of fish but also sea turtles and other unintended victims. The protection zone also provides a safe haven for other endangered species, including migratory whales and dugongs.
The declaration of this milestone protection zone was welcomed by Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) which manage Maputo National Park with the support of Peace Parks Foundation. It has helped to strengthen the sea turtle monitoring programme in park.
Since 2007, the sea turtle monitoring programme has trained and employed local community members as seasonal monitors, who protect nesting females, ensuring they lay their eggs successfully, and make their way back to the ocean safely. This is an incredibly important initiative, as the park is a nesting hotspot for loggerhead and leatherback turtles in Mozambique.
Approximately 80% of these sea turtle species’ populations, which visit Mozambique’s 2,470 km coastline each year, come to the park’s 90 km coastline to nest. By 2021, 45 community monitors were trained and actively monitoring, by foot, 775 sea turtle nests. Most of the nests belong to Loggeheards (96.4%) and can host anywhere between 23 to 198 eggs (the high range in eggs is due to reproductive issues on the lower end and likely merged nests on the upper end).
This year, Laika Visser and Nico Gründlingh, members of Peace Park Foundation’s GIS team, who were on a trip to the new 4×4 Wilderness Camp at Membene, in Maputo National Park, were lucky to be visiting during turtle hatching season. While there, they assisted the monitors in safely guiding new hatchlings into the warm waters of the southwestern Indian Ocean.Together with the support of committed donors and dedicated partners, the sea turtle populations that rely on the coastline of Maputo National Park receive extra care and protection, slowly helping to reestablish the populations of these critically endangered ‘ancients of the sea’.