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GUEST EDITORIAL: Turtle carnage
Last updated: 13th February 2010

By Peter Borchert, Founder of Africa Geographic magazine

Turtles are wonderful creatures at all stages of their long lives (some species can live to 100 years), from tiny hatchlings scrambling frantically down a beach towards the relative sanctuary of the ocean to their little-understood wandering years on the high seas, their rather more sedentary lives in their feeding grounds and their unerring, eventual return to natal beaches to begin the cycle anew. Above all, they are inoffensive, peaceable creatures; a delight to watch as, despite their considerable size, they glide so gracefully among the coral.

Marine turtles have been an integral part of the earth�s biodiversity for a very long time � the fossil record dates back some 220 million years, predating Jurassic times, when the great dinosaurs dominated land and sea. Certainly their time on earth dwarfs ours by several orders of magnitude.

And so it is a huge indictment against our species that in Africa and all over the world these inoffensive creatures are in desperate trouble, mostly at the hand of man. We kill them for their shells and their meat, and we steal thousands of their eggs every year. We destroy their nesting sites and we pollute their waters.

The result of this carnage is that of the five species of marine turtles occurring in African waters, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the olive ridley as Vulnerable; the green and loggerhead turtles as Endangered; and the leatherback and hawksbill turtles as Critically Endangered. Scientists estimate that of the latter two species, no more than 34 000 and 8 000 nesting females respectively inhabit global waters.

Empty oceans

Many conservation agencies working locally and globally are committed to the future of turtles. They need your support, but your actions, too, can make a difference. For example, if you are privileged enough to visit a turtle nesting site, make sure you do so under the guidance of a conservation officer in possession of the necessary permits. Never disturb turtles on the beach or their nests or eggs. Never buy products made from turtle meat, shell or eggs. And avoid eating shrimps or scallops; the chances are they have been harvested by trawling over reefs, a practice that causes huge harm to the reef habitat and traps thousands of marine turtles around the world every year.

Of course, the predicament of turtles is but one aspect of a greater malaise, for all over the world marine environments face ecological collapse. This continent�s outlook, as summed up by Andr� Standing, a senior researcher specialising in the governance of Africa�s natural resources, is particularly bleak. �Africa�s oceans are facing a profound crisis. In many, if not most, African countries commercial fishing is causing a dramatic decline in marine biodiversity. It is no longer sensationalist to claim that in the space of a single generation, large areas of the ocean that once contained spectacular wildlife and ecosystems will be virtually empty. The impact of overfishing on food security and human development will be profound and coastal communities will be hardest hit.�


Africa Geographic is that continent�s foremost wildlife and conservation magazine and is a scenic celebration of Africa�s wild places and all the creatures living there. You can draw inspiration from this world-class publication with its award-winning reportage and spectacular photography and play your own part in Africa�s environmental future by subscribing at a special rate for Planet 21 readers. To order 11 issues for �49 or US$85, email: , mentioning Planet 21.

P.S. Every day this year we are featuring a different endangered species, thanks to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) whose Red Book provides a unique source of reference. Click on the box below to see today�s picture and caption.