In this interview, the editor of The Nigerian Maritime News (TNMN), Ezinne Azunna speaks with Mrs Oyeronke Adegbile, a marine researcher and sea turtle expert who doubles as the Coastal Cleanup Coordinator for Ocean Conservancy in Nigeria on how endangered sea turtles are most impacted by marine debris and other human activities. She tells us why Nigeria should urgently salvage sea turtles.
To mark the World Ocean Day and World Sea Turtle Day, Adegbile who led #TeamSeas Nigeria in partnership with the Marine and Coastal Conservation Society of Nigeria, the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) and other not-for-profits, held a beach cleanup exercise at Maruwa beach, Lekki, Lagos, Nigeria where nearly 2000lbs of marine debris was removed last week.
Hope you find it interesting!
Thank you very much for inviting us here, can you just brief us what today’s day clean up exercise is about?
June 16 is the annual World Sea Turtle Day and so, the Ocean Conservancy Team Seas project is celebrating World Sea Turtle Day and by extension the World Ocean Day which was on June 8, with a beach clean up. This is because sea turtles are one of the species that are most impacted by marine debris so, by coming together on this World Sea Turtle Day to clean the beaches, we are helping save sea turtles and their habitats.
Why is it important that we save sea turtles?
Well, sea turtles are an endangered species, they are marine reptiles. In fact they are the only marine reptiles we have in Nigeria, we have seven species of sea turtles known to African waters but these sea turtles have been greatly impacted. They are listed in major international conventions and laws, they are also listed in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list of endangered species. Any specie that is listed in the IUCN red list is very important and if care is not taken may go into extinction.
What would happen if our waters do not have sea turtles at all?
Sea turtles are a part of marine water biodiversity and every strata in marine biodiversity has its own unique ecological roles. The sea turtle plays its own unique ecological roles in our waters. The green turtle for example grazes on seagrass beds in the ocean and helps to keep the ocean oxygenated. We know that if there is an excess bloom of vegetation in the ocean, the oxygen level would be depleted. So, the turtle is so important, they have so many unique ecological roles. Also, the leatherback turtle feeds on jellyfish. Jellyfish poisons fish. The leatherback turtle feeds on jellyfish thereby helping to reduce the population of jellyfish so that many fishes do not just die off .
When the sea turtles come up to nest on the beach dunes, they help to fertilise the beach for other animals that are in the sand of the beaches to survive. This is a very important role. So it is very important that we take biodiversity seriously especially at these crucial times when climate change and so many other issues are threatening the very existence of life on earth.
Are there statistics on endangered sea turtles here in Nigeria?
We know that in the 80’s we had all five species of sea turtles but as I speak now we rarely see the hawksbill turtle. I have been doing surveys on sea turtles since 2009. The hawksbill turtle is one of the most beautiful of sea turtles but it has been exploited because of the beauty of its shell. It has been used for jewellery, decorations and other things and we rarely encounter any of them in our survey now. Also the loggerhead turtles too, in our survey I think we only encountered it once. And we learnt that in the 80’s all these species of sea turtles were regularly seen in our waters. When we go for nesting surveys now, you rarely see turtle nests the way they used to be seen before.