19 Aug Rescuing turtles between beaches and rainforests in Kenya
The sea, the sun and getting hands-on experience in nature conservation. I decided to escape the German winter for two months to stay in Watamu, a small town on Kenya’s beautiful coast. During the week, I helped out with all the duties of Local Ocean Trust: Watamu Turtle Watch, a donation based project dedicated to rescue sea turtles and create awareness for the conservation of marine life.
At the coast of Watamu, Green turtles come to nest. The hawksbill turtle is very common in the ocean around the coast. The Turtle Watch team drives to the fish landings sites on the outskirt areas of Watamu to collect turtles, which were accidentally caught as by-catch in the fishermen’s nets. Still some fishermen sell the turtle meat, oil and carapace on the black market or consume the meat on their own, so they get a compensation to pay the repair of their fishing nets. All turtles get registered and tagged and are released back into the sea. If nests are expected to hatch, one could be lucky to see many little turtles making their way to the ocean. Creating awareness in the local community is another big goal of Turtle Watch, so I was happy to attend a talk given in a hotel for tourists from all over the world. Conservation only works when the community is involved, so workshops were set up to employ women in tree nurseries or teach how to keep bees as a second source of income. Every month, first aid courses are held in the communities and school classes are invited to Turtle Watch to learn about marine life and its conservation. Turtle Watch is also involved in a mangrove reforestation project. I spent a day in the hot sun on the coast, planting loads of new mangrove trees and having a great time in the mud, where mudskippers and fiddler crabs crossed our way. The Kenyan coast is great for snorkeling and as a volunteer I had the chance to join the team and a school class of kids with special needs and their teachers on a glass bottom boat. For many kids, it was the first time to swim in the ocean and they were excited to see all the colorful fishes and corals. Experiences like this sensitize future generations for nature and all its living beings. Therefore Turtle Watch also offers the opportunity to local students to become Marine Scouts and help out in the turtle rehabilitation center on weekends where injured turtles are treated until they can be released again. I learned that putting conservation into practice can be quite tough and I enjoyed the kindness and hospitality of all the people I worked with.
Around the coast
Watamu coast invites you to many fun beach activities. If you like kite surfing, diving, deep sea fishing, soccer or just relaxing in the sun, you’ll find your place in Watamu. I preferred snorkeling, running on the beach and swimming.
On weekends, I got a volunteer discount to visit the Gede ruins, an ancient town with a nearby baobab tree house, the Arabuko Sokoke Forest, which is famous for the endemic Scops owl and the Snake Farm, a home not only to poisonous snakes but also to handicapped turtles. The people of Watamu are well connected so everyone knows someone who works as a guide or driver and it’s easy to organize a trip. Malindi, the next city with an airport is also worth a trip. It can be reached by one of the small busses, called Matatu. Between markets with abundant offers of fresh fruits and vegetables, you find huge markets with European clothes, which are donated in Western countries and sold not only in Kenya. People from the tribe of the Massai sell their beautiful, elaborately designed jewellery and traditional sandals, which they make from discarded car tyres.
Safari- means “journey” in Swahili
A thing you should not miss in Kenya: Doing a Safari. I went with a group of volunteers on a weekend safari in Tsavo East National Park. Elephants came quite close to the safari van and our guide patiently stopped whenever we wanted to take photos. Giraffes, crocodiles, antelopes and even a cheetah and a lion appeared in the savannah. We ended our drives around lunch time, enjoyed the afternoon at the pool next to our lodge and the huge dinner buffet with dishes from the Kenyan and Western cuisine.
Ps. Nadja is a benoiser traveler from Europe