Green turtles might become extinct in Lamu County if measures are not taken to conserve their current population.
This is according to the Pate Marine Community Conservancy, a community-based organisation working towards the management of coastal marine resources.
The conservancy attributed the declining numbers to illegal poaching of the animal.
Speaking in Faza, the conservancy’s officials said illegal poaching of green turtles continues to reduce their population and that the animals are almost extinct.
Sgt Mahadhi Malau, a ranger with the conservancy, said community beliefs that turtle soup and meat treats infertility and asthma greatly contribute to the locals’ continued behaviour to trap and eat the sea animals.
Mr Malau said some fishermen in the region have developed new techniques of seeking for ready markets for the turtles in advance before going to the sea to hunt down and kill the animals.
“They have even identified a place to slaughter the turtles after they capture them before selling them to their clients. As we speak, green turtles have completely disappeared from this region. Something needs to be done to stop illegal poaching so that the animals don’t become extinct,” said Mr Malau.
Mr Bakari Bunu, who is the conservancy’s advisor, said the organisation has already embarked on door-to-door campaigns to equip the local community with knowledge concerning the importance of turtles.
Mr Bunu said they have even set aside a special day every week where rangers are sent to every village and homestead to educate the community on environmental protection and the need to preserve the turtles in Lamu.
He said the conservancy has so far brought several fishing villages and key government institutions, particularly the State Department of Fisheries, together to co-manage their fisheries.
He thanked organisations such as the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT-Coast), the Nature Conservancy, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) for assisting them with technical support in ensuring the marine ecosystem is well protected and managed.
“For decades, residents here who are mostly from the Bajuni community have held onto the belief that turtle fat can be used to treat various ailments among them asthma, tuberculosis and impotency. The fat is also believed to boost male sexual stamina. For these reasons, the locals have been engaging in turtle poaching. But in recent days, we have been able to equip them with knowledge about the importance of turtles. Poaching has now reduced. Our main goal is to have zero poaching of turtles here,” said Mr Bunu.
Mr Said Salmin, a resident of Faza Island, thanked all the organisations dealing with the management of marine resources including turtles for equipping them with knowledge on the importance of turtles.
He said the community is ready to cooperate with all relevant bodies to conserve turtles.
A recent report by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in Lamu indicated that turtles, whales, elephants and wild dogs are among the highly endangered species in the region.
Lamu KWS Senior Warden Mathias Mwavita cited unregulated fishing as the major cause of dwindling numbers of whales and turtles in the region, most of which are caught and killed or are forced to flee.
He appealed to locals to desist from poaching and called for measures that will ensure regulated fishing in the Indian Ocean which will in turn prohibit extreme practices that can harm turtles and whales.