Angola’s Sea Turtles Snap Back in Number After Conservation Aid

Sea turtles are swimming in larger numbers off the coast of Angola after a conservation program educated fishermen about the endangered species.

The $200,000-a-year Kitabanga Project over the past decade has protected about 9,000 nests, Michel Morais, a biologist on the program, said yesterday in a presentation. The project has probably helped save 750,000 turtles hatched on beaches that typically have a 1 percent survival rate, he said.

“Environmental education is part of the process we’re undertaking,” said Morais, who teaches biology at Agostinho Neto University in Luanda, the capital. “We want to develop a national plan under fisheries regulation to supervise the coasts and monitor nesting areas.”

As Angola rebuilds from a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002, education programs targeting schools, families and fishermen are raising awareness about human activities that can threaten the reptiles, he said.

There should be more discussion about oil-exploration mapping using loud underwater noises that can disorient sea animals, Morais said. Angola is Africa’s second-largest oil producer after Nigeria.

“The impact on the animals is one thing we want to explore,” Morais said. “I know my support comes partly from oil companies, but it’s something we have to work out.”

Kitabanga’s sponsors include BP Plc, Petroleo Brasileiro SA, known as Petrobras, and Banco Sol SA, an Angolan lender.

Some of the turtles travel from as far away as Brazil and they are a key indicator of the ocean’s biodiversity conditions, he said. The number of nests per kilometer (0.6 miles) of coastline fell from 75 in the 1980s to an average of 27 in recent years, before recovering to 50 in 2012.

Prized Shells

Six out of seven varieties of sea turtles located around the world are endangered. Five of those types are found in Angolan waters and at least three are laying their eggs along its southern Atlantic coastline, Morais said.

With their shells prized as handicrafts, the turtles also face dangers from fishing nets, boat traffic and beach rubbish.

“Artisanal fishing has grown a lot and this is a big problem,” Morais said. “Nets close to shore catch many turtles in the breeding season.”

The program also benefits from aerial surveys conducted by the Angolan air force and funding from the Ministry of the Environment. About a fifth of the budget is used to fit turtles with transmitters to track their migration by satellites and determine breeding grounds, Morais said.

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