15th rescue within one year
This part of Africa where AMMCO is situated is known generally for overexploitation of fisheries due to certain belief that the ocean is self-replenishing. This nonchalant act has rendered a lot of important species endangered. A notable example are the iconic sea turtle species. They are widely hunted for shell and meat, in addition, deprived of reproduction as their eggs are being predated on the beach when they nest.
Thanks to our SIREN fishermen network initiative, the narrative is changing. We have succeeded in winning some fishermen (who used to be turtle hunters) to the side of the turtle. They have become ambassadors of sea turtle protection, they do not only protect but also now advocate for a change in behavior in their respective communities. This 15th rescue is an important milestone as it attracted the attention of the government, fishermen and the general public.
AMMCO, in the presence of its president, Dr. Aristide Kamla, was at a forum with students in Masters at the University of Douala when we got alerted by Cedric Biankeu (a focal point of our SIREN citizen science) about an olive ridley sea turtle that was accidentally captured in a fishing net and brought to the fish market of Youpwe, Douala, Cameroon. The weakened turtle was confiscated by the Fishery Service of Youpwe who was planning to keep the turtle in captivity for some days. There was no way the helpless animal would have survived as her natural habitat is the marine environment and there is no existing sea turtle rehabilitation facility in Cameroon.
We were able to convince the Fishery Service after much sensitization to immediately release the turtle to the sea. Initially, the motivation was low but we explained that it was in everybody’s benefit to save the turtle, that this is one of the rare occasions to advocate about the work of the Fishery Service and invite the national media to cover the release of the turtle. When the media came, the entire staff of the Fishery Service became very active in releasing the animal and everybody wanted to be involved. But the public rejected the idea, they clamored that it was just an ordinary animal and should be eaten. AMMCO stood up to the crowd and addressed them, raising awareness about the danger that the turtles face and the importance of releasing that one back to the sea. Eventually, the audience obliged.
Releasing the turtle faced additional challenges. AMMCO and the delegate of the Fishery Service of Youpwe had to use personal funds to hire a boat and pay for fuel. AMMCO, the delegate of the Fishery Service of Youpwe, his staff, a representative of fishermen and the Media team teamed up and embarked on a boat to release the animal far away from the mangrove areas to prevent an eventual recapture.
It was amazing to see joy and emotions on the face of the team as the turtle was released back in the water and surface for its first post-release breath.
From this experience and the entire previous 14 turtle rescues, it is evident that there is hope for not just sea turtles but also other aquatic wildlife like manatees, cetaceans, sharks and rays. We would like to intensify our sensitization effort and education outreach program. These simple strategies work!
It is important to mention that there is a need for a rehabilitation center as that weak turtle would have been placed in convalescence to allow her to fully recover from its injury before returning to the sea.
Nevertheless, we are glad the animal was released without any form of compensation, the government and the general public are now aware of the need and how they can protect sea turtles. We appreciate the bravery act of the Delegate of the Fishery service, Dr. Aristide Kamla of AMMCO and Cedric Biankeu, focal point of the SIREN Citizen Science network, for standing up as a voice for this precious creature and for encouraging others to pursue this noble cause.