Cape Verde is an island state in West Africa considered the third country in the world with the highest number of loggerhead turtles.
This small archipelago is located just west off the continent in the Pacific Ocean. It is regularly hit by droughts and economic crises which lead to an increase in the cost of living, local products being affected by the shortage, and pushing the state to favor imports.
The loggerhead sea turtle, a species threatened by global warming and rising sea levels, only reproduces in a small number of nesting sites: in Oman, Florida and Cape Verde.
“Last year, in 2021, we found 155,000 nests here in Boavista. We believe that Cape Verde could end up having the largest population of loggerhead turtles in the world,” says Pedro Diaz, biologist and founder of the organization Bios.CV.
But the accumulation of plastic waste on the beaches of the archipelago endangers this creature classified as an endangered protected species. Turtles are among the most endangered by our changing ocean and plastic pollution. They often mistake plastic for their jellyfish prey and are also fatally caught in our fishing gear.
As the nesting season approaches, environmental activists gathered around a local association, Biosfera, are mobilizing to rid the beaches of the archipelago of plastic waste and fishing equipment, which each year cause a considerable number of victims among young turtles who are hatched on the beaches.
Biosfera volunteers face a daunting challenge every year. Rubbish from all over the world washes up in the sea currents on the beaches of Santa Luzia, which is one of the islands of Cape Verde.
In 2018, French television France 24 reported that this plastic waste came from more than 25 different countries, as close as Ghana or Senegal, and as far away as Germany or Thailand.
Last year, this association of environmental volunteers, in constant search of funding, collected more than 250 tons (over the whole of 2021) of waste just on the few kilometers that it cleaned.
The problem remains, despite the local solutions provided by Biosfera. The country also lacks the means to set up a real recycling system, which exacerbates the issue. Setting up a recycling program could drastically reduce the amount of domestic plastic, but the cleaning up of plastic in our oceans must be done to ensure none wash up.
It should be noted, however, that environmental protection campaigns have largely permeated the Cape Verdean imagination over the past fifteen years. In all the country’s islands, popular education initiatives are multiplying.
“Traditionally, the turtle was a food resource for the people of Cape Verde. In the last 20 years this has changed a lot, there is also greater awareness of the environment, especially among young people, and we have shown that their existence is good for tourism in Cape Verde”, rejoiced the biologist Pedro Diaz.
But raising awareness, no matter how widespread, will not be a definitive solution. It will be necessary to involve international and coordinated efforts to resolve the situation in the long term.