Fishermen, fish processors and coastal communities have been urged to help to protect and conserve sea turtles in the country.
This is because even though sea turtles are listed among endangered species in the world by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), many fishermen and coastal communities in the country still kill them for food.
The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an NGO with focus on fisheries resources and coastal management, in 2019 initiated a programme, dubbed “Turtle Conservation Project” in Gomoa Fetteh to help protect the sea turtles in the country.
The project has since been extended to Senya Breku, also a coastal community in the Gomoa East District of the Central Region of Ghana.
In Ghana, sea turtles are commonly poached when coming to nest on the shore or unintentionally entangled in fishing nets.
Speaking at a symposium last Tuesday, May 23, 2023, at Gomoa Fetteh in the Central Region to mark this year’s World Turtle Day, the Communications Officer of EJF, Mr Charles Smith, said protecting sea turtles was a shared responsibility, hence encouraging all fishers and fish processors, particularly those in the fishing communities to play a part in helping to protect them.
He explained that sea turtles play a vital role in maintaining healthy oceans and fisheries by grazing on seagrass, maintaining coral reefs and regulating the populations of the jellyfish which prey on fish eggs.
In addition, he said, the eggs sea turtles lay on Ghana’s beaches supply nutrients that support coastal ecosystems.
Mr Smith, however, expressed the concern that nest destruction by dogs, coastal dwellers and killing of female turtles that come to the shores to lay eggs pose a great risk to conservation efforts.
“This means taking action now to protect sea turtles is essential to ensure their continued survival and to maintain the significant benefits they bring to coastal communities,” he said, explaining that the inception of the “Turtle Conservation Project” has led to the rescue and release of 39 turtles back into the ocean.
"The 39 rescued turtles, he explained, were made possible through a community-led approach and that “Out of the 39 safe releases achieved, 28 were caught mistakenly by fishers.
"The turtles were entangled in their nets, and the fishers wanted to sell them to turtle meat processors to offset the cost of their damaged nets.
However, the patrol teams were able to negotiate with the fishermen and the turtles were released back into the sea.”
In addition, Mr Smith explained, the remaining 11 were found by turtle poachers during the nesting period but the patrol teams successfully persuaded them to release the turtles.
He, however, said not every turtle was saved, pointing out that two Leatherbacks species of the turtle were killed at Senya Breku and one Green turtle died entangled in fishing nets.
He said the project has also recorded 649 nesting and that a total of 137 hatchings were released into the sea.
Mr. Smith further indicated that the project has been able to screen a documentary film and animation on turtle conservation in 10 coastal communities in the Central region.
The Site Manager in charge of the Muni Pomadze Ramsar Site, Ghana Wildlife Division, Madam Vivian Aye-Addo, said protecting endangered species should be of concern to all citizens and not only the staff of the Wildlife Division.
She said all endangered species are important in the environment as they contribute unique characteristics to the sustenance of the environment.
“They are part of the ecosystem and biodiversity and so we cannot do without them,” she said, adding “It is important we all contribute to protecting turtles in order to ensure their continued contributions to the environment.”
Madam Aye-Addo said female turtles return to the shore where they were hatched to also lay their eggs after 25 years, hence encouraging people living along the coast not to destroy turtle eggs or kill them for food.