Friday, September 10, 2010

The RCW Sea Turtle Rescue Project

Design courtesy of Tamar Losleben.

Last September, before our first beach cleanup, Alfred and I were surfing Inners and he noticed a massive pile of sand right under the big almond tree.

"Turtle!" he shouted, and started digging.

Rather naively, I asked what he was doing.

"Turtle eggs are too sweet," was his reply.

I paused for a minute, reluctant to be the white woman in Africa who pushes conservation just for the sake of it, going crazy with zeal for, say, saving turtles while the community around me was also in need. I waited, weighed my options--Alfred thinking I was insufferable versus being indirectly responsible for a hundred dead turtle eggs--and told him not to dig them up.

"But why, Elie? If I don't, someone else will." He had a point. Without a plan, and a good one at that, what was I doing trying to change the behavior of one person when clearly it wouldn't affect the outcome?

Still.

"Do it for me, okay Alfred?"

Alfred gave me a look like I was exactly the crazy white woman stereotype I was trying to avoid, then grabbed his board and we surfed a few little Inner Cottons stomach waves before starting the cleanup. We joked about the turtles for weeks.

We still joke about the turtles. Only now we've run a 3-month pilot Sea Turtle Rescue project modeled on the one in Ghana and we're a little further along from where we started. Just a little.

What we've learned from Project Leader Abraham (AB) Fanbulleh is that it's not easy for people to trust the project's motives. They think we're working with the police, who arrest people in possession of either sea turtles or their eggs and imprison them until they pay a hefty fine.

We also have teaching to do about the importance of sea turtles in maintaining species balance in the ocean ecosystem, although AB has been explaining slowly their connection to keeping jellyfish populations--that ruin fishing nets and spoil entire catches--at bay.

There's obviously more, but that the main stuff. We have a lot to work on in the future!

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