By Jess Williams
Each year, May 23rd slips past us all, just a regular day, however unknown to most it is in fact a landmark day for one of the worlds most favorite flagship marine megafauna taxa, sea turtles. May 23rd is World Turtle Day (WTD), a day designed to bring attention to the plight of the sea turtle, to celebrate their existence, encourage learning and to help raise awareness and support for conservation efforts. Although originally created twelve years ago in the United States, this year at Tofo Beach Mozambique, Marine Megafauna Foundation hosted the first WTD events of its kind and the day was a spectacular success!
- 63 local children turned out to join us at the beach for World Turtle Day events.
- Group shot of 42 Pembane school kids with their egg carton sea turtles.
Mozambique has five species of sea turtles, which utilize its 2 700 km of coastline to forage and some to nest. Unfortunately the current status of sea turtles is not understood well and although they are protected under Mozambican and international laws, poaching is widespread. Much work is required to help Mozambique preserve its sea turtles ranging from scientific research, consistent monitoring, regulation of fisheries laws and patrolling through to education and outreach. With this in mind, it was decided than World Turtle Day presents the perfect opportunity to engage the local community and increase their knowledge of sea turtles and their threats. The day was packed full of events all turtle themed to stimulate and engage the children in as many ways as possible. Participants ranged from 5 to 13 years old from across three different schools (Escola Wanana, Escola Nhapupwe and Escola Pembane) from the Tofo/ Inhambane area.
- Nesting turtle crawl races
- One of the five groups to build a turtle shaped sand castle – this was group is representing the Loggerhead Turtle.
The Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) plus Eyes on the Horizon (EOTH) representative Hannah Darrin formed WTD team and met early on the day to add the finishing touches to their turtle costumes and paint faces. The team consisted of five people to represent each of the five sea turtle species found in Mozambique. Eagerly awaiting at the beach was 63 kids, who were dressed in green and had made paper turtle hats and masks. Excitement was in the air, as the children spontaneously started chanting “Tar-tar-uga, Tar-tar-uga!” (turtle, turtle!) at the top of their lungs, over and over again. The masses were divided into five groups and sea turtle shaped sand castles were built, each representing the different types of turtles found here. Even through the language barriers, (as most of the smaller children speak ‘Bitonga’ a local dialect and are just beginning to learn Portuguese) magnificent teamwork was displayed during the construction of the turtle-castles.
- Jess giving her sea turtle outreach and education presentation.
- Turtle Cookies – who doesn’t love them?
After the turtle sand castles were completed everyone gathered together to participate in sea turtle crawling races. This involved everyone lying on their stomachs at the starting line and using their arms and legs in a motion to represent how nesting sea turtles use their flippers to haul themselves up the beach to lay their eggs. This activity was not only hilarious to all participants, and onlookers, but also drew the attention of nearby tourists, local fishers and sellers in the market.
- The class at Pembane School, of which 2/3 of the class admitted to having eaten sea turtle before.
- Example of the turtle craft.
Following the fun held on Tofo’s main beach, the group eagerly gathered for a short talk and presentation about sea turtles. The talk, presented by Jess Williams and translated into Portuguese by Messias Antonio explained to the children that turtles live for a long time and are important providers of ecosystem services helping to maintain balanced and healthy ocean. Key messages delivered to the children also included ways they can actively help conserve sea turtles, for example by recycling and using reusable bags rather than plastic. A short documentary about the success of sea turtle conservation initiatives in Brazil was then screened. Unlike Brazil who has successfully preserved the majority of sea turtles, Mozambique is still struggling to achieve this goal. Many local children here have never seen a sea turtle nesting and will not see one in the water as most do not have the opportunity to learn swim, let alone learn to scuba dive. This is why visual stimulus of sea turtles and people working with turtles to protect them is the key to helping these kids engage and connect with the ideas presented so that in the future they may become sea turtle guardians or stewards. To finalize the mornings events each child was given a turtle shaped cookie as a small gift for participating in our first World Turtle Day celebrations.
- Local students of Pembane getting creative.
- Some pretty awesome patterns were developed to decorate the turtles!
In the afternoon, the team (still dressed as turtles), walked to Escola Pembane, a local school approximately one hour away by foot on the northern end of the marsh land which backs onto Tofo’s main settlement. At Pembane, we worked with a class of 42 Mozambican kids to deliver a turtle themed arts lesson. Before commencing the painting and colouring, Jess and Messias spoke to the class, once again about the importance of turtles and how they are protected under Mozambican law. When asked, “Who has eaten turtle before?” two-thirds of the class raised their hands, the turtle craft activities could not have been aimed to a more critical target audience. The kids coloured and decorated paper turtle cutouts and painted the humps egg cartons to represent the shells of the turtles. They were then strung up, to make hanging ornaments. The activity was received well and all participants seemed very grateful to be learning both about the turtles and having the opportunity for an art lesson, with materials they do not normally have access to.
- Everyone was happy to show of the finished product
- Arts + sea turtle conservation = winning class room lesson.
Although absent from the main World Turtle Day events, MMF/EOTH Lauren Warnell coordinated a beach cleanup in honour of the turtles whilst working away on Benguerra Island in the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park. Plastic debris and rubbish on our beaches and in our oceans can be extremely harmful to sea turtles, as they ingest it by mistake and thus Lauren’s efforts were a grand gesture to contribute towards sea turtle conservation. In addition classroom events using step-by-step activity guides created by Jess were also held in both Cape Town and Swaziland. All in all, the day was deemed an amazing success for a first time event, with many smiling faces to be seen. Hopefully we helped to spread awareness and information to a key audience and inspired the future generation of sea turtle conservationists.
- Lauren along side her beach clean up efforts on Benguerra Island.
- Build your own sea turtle classroom activities.
Jess would like to extend greatest thanks to everyone who participated in World Turtle Day, supplied equipment, resources, baked cookies, dug sand castles, crawled like turtles, translated to children, collected boxes, cut out egg cartons and all everyone else who assisted. We hope this is the first of many spectacular World Turtle Day events for Mozambique. For more photos of our World Turtle Day events check out our facebook page.