Tag Archives: sea turtles

Integrating Sea turtle conservation with sports

The world cup fever is a welcome craze to billions of people worldwide. This once in a while event comes as a blessing to a wide cross-section of our communities, never mind the fact that some of our local national teams are going to join us on the couch and sharing our popcorn instead of dressing up in jerseys and kicking some ball like their peers! It is that time again when, if you loathe football, you should then descend into a remote bunker that you should have built earlier. This season, however, I doubt whether the sea turtles will be happy with the hordes of football fans who will undoubtedly find their way into South African beaches. I know for a fact that the noise too will be unwelcome because I am sure South Africa will be loud over the next couple of weeks.

On the bright side, this soccer craze has its good tidings. In many places along the coast, hundreds of young people are engaged in this much-loved sport in the name of sea turtle conservation. From Funzi to Kipini, the Mexican wave is rapidly catching on. Take the Turtle F.C. for instance. Supported and sponsored by the Tana Friends of the Marine Environment (TAFMEN), the team is a force to reckon with in the local tournaments. The wannabe Ronaldos, Drogbas and Marigas have a passion not only for kicking around leather, but also keeping the sea turtles alive.

That is why each match is a sea turtle education and awareness opportunity for them, using the pre-match moments to urge the community to conserve the sea turtles and their habitats. Sticking out in the stands, one cannot fail to notice ‘Save the sea turtle’ messages interspersed with team slogans.

Members of TAFMEN are a permanent feature in the cheering stands, taking a deserved breather from patrolling and monitoring their beaches to watch these truly talented young men take to the field. Practice sessions are taken seriously, with the coach imparting both tactical and life skills to the team. To John Kali, a member of TAFMEN and stand-in coach, the soccer pitch is one place where the youth can sit still and listen keenly. Shaibu Mohammed can’t agree more, and he relishes in the very idea of scouting for sponsors and well-wishers to support this young and determined club. He looks forward to the day, which he reckons is coming soon, when other seashore communities shall borrow a leaf from Kipini. Soon, he says, the district cup finals may very well be a match between Green turtle F.C. and Hawkbill F.C., better still, third place could be the new kids on the block, Leatherback United.

At the end of each game, the message left ringing in the spectators’ ears is clear, Turtle F.C. is a good side…………and there really is a need to conserve the endangered sea turtles.
Turtle FC members during practice

Center: Team captain, John Kali

Infront: TAFMEN project coordinator, Shaibu Mohamed


Destructive fishing practices on Funzi Bay

The remains of a large female green turtle was found slaughtered on the south shore of Funzi Island on Tuesday 17th of October. The meat had been removed, probably at sea, and the cadaver was dumped to be taken taken to shore by the waves. This was the first time we encountered this type of incident, which is not very common nowadays. All local fishermen here on Funzi Island are aware that poaching sea turtles is both illegal and immoral.

This incident coincides disturbingly with the presence of few large motorboats who are using ring nets just off shore on Funzi Bay. This non-selective fishing method is extremely harmful to the marine ecosystem. Recently, it also became illegal in Kenya. A ring net will catch everything within its width, with no consideration to what species are harvested and to the size of the individuals caught. When used around coral reefs, ring nets are known to cause massive destruction.

The local people in Funzi are powerlessly watching this destruction occurring on daily basis in their own fishing waters. The unwelcome fishermen operate in large groups, with up to 30 roughnecked men on each boat. It is said that each boat can catch up to 5 tonnes of fish a day. The crew often originates from other areas, even from as far as Tanzania. Their understanding of the conditions in the marine ecosystem here is very limited, and their incentive to brutally exploit the fish here is clear – each fishermen earns about 7000 Kenyan shillings a day (roughly 70€). At least three of these vessels have been exploiting the water around Funzi during the last month. Trying to chase away such a fishing boat from the area might en up in a violent conflict.

Fish in Funzi is an important resource. It is an absolutely vital protein source for the islands’ inhabitants and provides a well-needed income for the fishermen. According to experienced fishermen, the landings of fish have been rapidly declining during the last years. The activities witnessed around here will certainly have a negative impact on fisheries and are endangering both the ecosystem and the people relying on it. This, in turn, will certainly make life even more difficult for sea turtles. In addition to habitat destruction and the higher risk of getting caught in nets, there is an overhanging risk that even local fishermen will go back to poaching turtles in the absence of fish. Since this fishing occurs on such a large scale, it is up to the local authorities to take action. The local fishermen can not protect the environment by themselves.

Big clean-up on Funzi Island

Last Monday Suleiman, our friend and a Funzi Turtle Club member, came to us and said that Tuesday was a national holiday and the kids are free from school. He had an idea to take a group of students for a major clean-up in the biggest beach on the island, Mwakinyavu. We jumped at the chance as this is one of the best nesting beaches for sea turtles on Funzi and it is too big to clean for a few people. Our worries were only that the children would rather do something else on their day off…

On Tuesday morning we woke up early, trying to avoid walking to the beach when the sun is already on “scorch”. After eating our daily chapatis washed down with a nice chai maziwa (milk tea) we went to the school to see if anyone would join us. The only ones appearing were two girls, and after 20 minutes our suspicions for a “no show” were growing. But suddenly, the school yard filled with children with the encouragement of another club member, Nashamba. About 25 girls and boys from 6 to 16 years old came and impatiently wanted to get started. After a short introduction from Suleiman we started our 45 minutes long walk in the hot Kenyan sun. When we got to Mwakinyavu the kids just spread out and started collecting all kinds of junk that happened to reach the shore – old plastic sandals, hundreds of plastic bottles and other bits and pieces of plastic.

Within half an hour the largest beach on Funzi was clean. Well, it turned out to be more garbage than we managed to carry back to the village. The rest was taken later by the rest of the Turtle Club members. After the hard work we recovered our strength with a soda with the children who made this achievement possible.

The big problem with the plastic debris arriving the beaches here, apart from the obvious non-appealing sight, is that sea turtles and other animals confuse it with food and either choke or get poisoned from it. The clean-ups by the club members, and the children, are an important contribution to marine wildlife.

Another activity of the Funzi Turtle Club is to create handicrafts from the waste, which creates livelihood and gives some value to the undesired, ever growing piles of garbage on the beaches.

A problem we face here on Funzi is that disposal of garbage is nonexistent. All garbage is burned uncontrolled in open fires or simply dug down in the soil. There are no facilities to do any kind of recycling here. The waste pollutes both the air, soil and water around the island. Better facilities here, or at least a better way to transport the junk to the mainland to be recycled, will contribute much to both people and the ecosystems. But at least we are lucky enough to have many children that care about their environment, the future is bright!

Destruction on Funzi Island Continues

Whenever anybody hears the name ‘Funzi Island’, they think sea turtles, this is because Funzi Island is undoubtedly a turtle haven. With virtually untouched beaches and little human development, this island boasts of six nesting sites, out of which thousands of hatchlings have crawled into the open ocean every year – for thousands of years. All the seven species of the sea turtles are listed by the IUCN as ‘endangered’, with the green turtle being in the red list, meaning it is ‘critically endangered’. Two species of turtles nest on Funzi Island while others are known to forage in the waters off the Kenyan coast. More than 50% of this magnificent island is covered in mangrove forest and an indigenous forest, home to small animals such as the rare colobus monkeys, dik diks, wild pigs and a host of terrestrial and marine birds.

Conservation efforts spearheaded by organisations such as the Kenya Sea Turtle Conservation & Management Committee (KESCOM), the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) among others, seem to be bearing fruit. With the help and support from KESCOM, over 18 local-volunteer-led Turtle Conservation Groups (TCGs) have sprung up all along the coast and are doing an incredible job cleaning beaches, undertaking beach patrols, protecting nests and rehabilitating sea turtle habitats.

Funzi Turtle Club is one of the oldest and most active of these groups. Consisting of 30 members, the club has consistently and jealously guarded the six beaches on the island against poachers and wild predators. The group frequently carries out public education and awareness, illuminating the need for community involvement in conservation activities. These efforts have seen a sharp decline in sea turtle poaching and consumption. Sadly, these efforts are being sabotaged and the gains made reversed, thanks to a private developer on the island.

The Swiss-Italian hotelier who is the proprietor of a high-end private resort in Funzi is on a deforestation melee in his unchecked quest to expand his dominance on the island. This capitalistic catastrophe has led him to fence off chunks of forest land effectively hampering movement on the island for the locals and completely blocking access routes to the beaches. His bulldozers work overtime – flattening the tropical forest synonymous with Funzi, a feature which made the island a truly exotic destination. This spells doom to conservation efforts. Funzi residents have now raised the red flag and are crying out in protest.

Particularly enraged are the turtle club members who are unable to reach the beaches to carry out their daily conservation activities. This leaves the nesting sites vulnerable, exposing them to egg and turtle poachers. Collection of vital turtle activity data and nest monitoring activities are also greatly affected, leaving the club members a dejected and angry lot.

Walking through what is left of the once thick virgin forest is a sad and emotional affair. The look on the little monkeys’ faces perched high on baobab trees and staring at fresh clearings almost tells their story – that of impeding doom. Their calls translate to a cry for help, speaking for the other animals and the turtles that cannot speak. The lingering question remains: If this individual will not listen to a plea from humans, can’t he at least stop and listen to the cry of the monkeys?

The Dobos on Funzi

After months of planning and long e-mail exchanges we were finally in Kenya, on the way to “our” island and a voluntary work with the people of Funzi and KESCOM. While waiting for the boat to take us for the first time to Funzi Island, a local fisherman came with a rice sack containing a green sea turtle. It had been caught in the fishing nets early in the morning and was now to be rescued back after measurements and tagging with an ID number. We were so happy about seeing a turtle already on our first day on the island! It was a juvenile, but we believe it was a female and she was named Sonia after me (J or I, doesn’t really matter here). I’m wondering where she might be heading, if she will follow her friends from here that were found as far as South Africa or if she will stay around and watch us while we swim… Anyway, if she will survive all the dangers at sea and at shore, I hope she will be hatching new Sonja-turtles one day!

What worries me now as we have been walking around this small paradise island is that Sonia may not recognize her nesting beach when it’s her time to return. The level of destruction in this island is massive and it seems most of it is caused by just one single businessman operating the island with connections and money.

We are working together with the Funzi Turtle Club, who are doing such admirable work on a volunteer basis to benefit the sea turtles. They are performing daily cleaning of the beaches, patrolling and making handicrafts from rubbish collected on the beaches, to mention a few things. Today we joined beach patrols in the morning. Beautiful sceneries of white sand beaches mixed with mangrove forests and few signs for exploitation – only a few small fishing boats using simple fishing equipments. In the evening we were supposed to visit one of the six nesting beaches to conduct cleaning as well as monitoring of the beach. There is only one road to access this beach, and the land surrounding this road has been fenced by the the above mentioned businessman, who has his private air-strip there. When we came, a Masai guard stopped us from entering the public road leading towards the beach. The guard was holding a knife in one hand and aggressively telling us off, following us back to the gate. We were not able to reach the beach and were left with no other options than to return back home. Our aim, to monitor the beach and clean it from debris, could not be reached.

There is no alternative road to this very important nesting beach, and the turtle group is now unable to perform their patrols, clean ups or monitoring. This is a disaster for the turtles, which are known to come to nest soon, and a hard blow to the dedicated group of people working here. The feelings are turbulent on Funzi at the moment. The locals are being restricted from their right to use their own land, and the turtles are left unprotected. All in the name of greed.


tagging-a-turtle.JPGtourists watch as a turtle is tagged


Tagging and release of turtles, as well as beach clean-ups and mangrove rehabilitation are quickly becoming activities of choice for tourists visiting Funzi Island. True to the ecotourism theme driving the IUCN-sponsored Funzi project, visitors are increasingly taking time off to participate in conservation activities planned and carried out by the Funzi Turtle Club.

Every morning, the members of the club routinely carry out beach patrols and clean-ups as they monitor turtle nests and tend to mangrove plantations. Every so often, they will be accompanied by happy-go, big-hearted and adventurous tourists who turn a trip to the island into a hands-on learning experience.


Frances, an American university student visiting Funzi for the first time, was lost for words “The biology of sea turtles is just fascinating. These creatures are magnificent” said the ecotourism student who, apart from using the visit as a fieldwork trip for her research work, took part in various activities in the village. “I’m seeing more reason why we should do everything in our powers to ensure that they are saved from extinction”.


Alice and Hattie from Manchester, England took some time off their studies to volunteer at a local school in Mombasa. They had read about the turtle conservation project in Funzi, so when a friend came up with the idea to visit the island, they literary jumped at the opportunity. Their four-day stay was, in their words ‘a wonderful adventure’. On the second day of their stay, they got the enviable chance to help tag and release a turtle rescued from a fisherman’s net. “This is so cool!” exclaimed Hattie as she posed for pictures with the juvenile turtle. “My parents are not going to believe this!” They later released the turtle, which they nicknamed ‘crush’ and watched it as it swam into the calm evening waters. To wind up their visit, they watched as club members demonstrated the process of making various ‘flip flop handicrafts’, which they so thankfully carried home as souvenirs.


For those who wish to mingle with raw nature and enjoy (and conserve) the simple pleasures of an unspoilt environment, Funzi has become the new exotic destination.

Coastal development and sea turtle conservation: Where is the balance?

Access road blockage

To those who have visited the island, the mere mention of Funzi conjures images of an exotic island, untouched by human development and left behind in the scramble for scarce and fast diminishing natural resources. The island, boasting of a rich diversity of animal and plant life is also a nesting site and foraging ground for the endangered sea turtles, especially the Green and Hawksbill species. Over the years, hundreds of these magnificent sea creatures have left their crawl prints on the quiet beaches surrounding this sleepy island on the South Coast of Mombasa, as they come to nest, almost assured that their young ones will make it to the waters and begin the long voyage that has been replayed for centuries.

As dolphins play in the serene waters, various small animals scout the virgin forest, laid back in their lifestyle and unperturbed by the little human activity in the nearby village certain that no harm will beget them. My camera rapidly clicks away, catching sight of a young colobus monkey idly perched on a tree branch, and I realize that like many of his kin, he is totally unaware that the very tree branch he sits on may soon be turned into a piece into furniture adorning one of the many cottages rapidly being constructed on the island. My mind wanders off and I’m momentarily lost in thought, only to be startled by a terrified Dik Dik in full flight, scared by the strange sound of an approaching bulldozer. The chirping of the many birds hidden among the trees seems to have a different tune, almost revealing the looming threat from the new unwelcome neighbors.

Funzi island is home to slightly over 1000 people, who have over the years sustainably used the many natural resources for sustenance. A good number of the ‘fundis’ are fishermen, making use of traditional fishing methods to feed their families. The island is also home to two resorts, one of which mainly caters for visitors on day trips while the other, an all-inclusive establishment, caters for high-end tourists.

The planned cottages are an off-shoot of this all-inclusive resort, and thanks to this developments, the natural forest on the island, home to numerous small animals, birds and insects will have to go. What’s more, this wanton destruction is the work of one man, driven by profit and unhindered by anything else.

The senseless deforestation has especially complicated the work of sea turtle conservationists working on the island, and since all access paths to the beaches have been deliberately blocked, they have had to quietly sneak through the thickets, lest they come face to face with the dreaded and mean looking, baton-wielding Maasai guards, who are under strict instructions not to let anyone through.

Simple tasks such as beach clean-ups have turned into hide and seek games. Walking on the beaches can only be done in defiance, by those brave enough to stand up to the guards dotted all over the island – never mind the fact that according to Kenyan law, all land 60 metres from the high tide line is public. There’s more to come. The cottages are being built so close to the beach without the lighting ordinances being kept. Counsel and conscience have been thrown out of the window as financial gains and profit-making take the front seat.

Conservationists are now raising the red flag against this looming threat to wildlife. The Kenya Sea Turtle Conservation Committee (KESCOM), which runs a community-based conservation project in Funzi, sees this as a blow to the gains made over the years. According to the project officer, Douglas Maina, there is a need for future development on the island to be controlled if the ecosystem has to be conserved. “It is very important that we see the big picture and think in terms of today’s long-term impact on the environment and the wildlife that we are trying to conserve”, he added. The organization works locally with the Funzi Turtle Club, runs a IUCN Netherlands-sponsored pilot project that seeks to integrate sea turtle conservation with ecotourism. Cottage construction on the Island

Villagers are worried since the area administration is unable (or unwilling) to intervene. To see such a beautiful island being destroyed in such a callous manner is painfully worrying, and at the very least, annoying.

Douglas maina

Integrating sea turtle conservation with ecotourism

Funzi Turtle Club members receive ownership documents of a boat donated by IUCN Netherlands as part of a project ‘Integrating sea turtle conservation with ecotourism’. The boat will be used for sea patrols. The turtle conservation club also carries out other activities such as habitat rehabilitation, beach clean-ups, turtle tagging and release, hatchling release program, in-situ nest protection as well as production of handicrafts and souvenirs out of recycled material. This club is one of the 18 community Turtle Conservation Groups (TCGs) that the Kenya Sea Turtle Conservation Community (KESCOM) currently works with.