The Gambia is exceptional in West Africa - all five species of marine turtles (green, loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill and olive ridley) are found in its waters and come ashore to nest. Shallow coastal areas such as Kartong, Medina Salam, Gunjur, Sambuyaa, Sanyang, Tujereng, Batokunku, Tanji and Brufut coast of West Coast Region - The Gambia, rich in seagrasses, are prime feeding grounds for green turtles which make them especially vulnerable to bycatch in the shrimp trawler fishery. Hence turtle conservation initiative of Smile for Life.
With our organisation's eleven years of working experience in marine turtle conservation, there was buoyant nesting along the sites. Since last year to date, we have noticed that nesting levels have declined at many coastal sites, with few recordings since 2021 at nine nesting sites. In a year, we normally record a minimum of 30-50 nest nests being relocated to the hatchery. Last year, we recorded two nests in Kartong and three in Sanyang. This year starting from the 1st of June to the 11th of September 2022, we started monitoring the sites day and night. Not a single nest was found, nor was any turtle's track along the beaches or coastal communities seen. A change that needs great intervention.
Reasons behind this occurrence are fishing near the coastal line and interactions with poachers, of which the surviving turtles are prone to injuries. Hence nesting abnormality. This directly affects their nesting patterns and makes them dysfunctional, with the fatal risk of death.
In my own observation, I thought our water was being contaminated; why? The Chinese fishing trawlers in the sea are brutally maltreating this species. Death turtles would be seen two attached and nailed together washed offshore. Before, we had never seen such a sight in The Gambia. The question at hand now needs proper investigation. Is our water contaminated, or are their feeding grounds being destroyed?
Threatened marine mammals, turtles and seabirds are not only targeted directly but also suffer high mortality from bycatch. Marine turtles face threats both in the sea and when nesting on land. They are particularly vulnerable if their nesting grounds are remote, attract a high number of fishers, and are located in a community that lacks the capacity to monitor and enforce the law.
The majority of nesting aggregations, including those recorded by Smile for Life The Gambia, are relatively small, yet they are a potentially important source of regional genetic diversity. Nesting on many of the coastal communities in the West Coast Region and Kombo south, in particular, has decreased over these two years, despite the fact that thousands of turtles probably originated from these sites. The sites are being taken by artisanal fishers in the Gambian waters annually.
In the veins of the above, Smile for Life is hereby calling on partners and experts in marine turtle conservation on how the situation would be tackled to the barest minimum.