Recently, our Watamu Community Liaison Officer, Athman, was in Malindi to visit an old man who has a very special relationship with Watamu Turtle Watch. The old man’s son had earlier come to bring greetings from his father to Athman, with whom he has worked together and has a long standing friendship.
Mzee Mohammed Shariff is a sickly man today in body, but his memories are as vivid as if it were yesterday when he spoke to Athman about his past. He has been unwell since 2012 after suffering a stroke which left him paralysed on his left side.
In 2000 he met Athman and Kahindi from Watamu Turtle Watch (WTW) in Uyombo where they were creating awareness about turtles. As a fisherman he was intrigued with the information he received because he had seen many turtles drown in his net. It saddened him deeply to the extent that he had devised a way of lengthening the ropes in his net and so that the turtles can at least come up for air when they get entangled. When he saw them and heard what they said, he was very pleased to find people who were interested in caring for the turtles like he was and with whom he could share information about turtles and ask questions he had about marine life.
Mzee Mohammed Shariff was the first fisherman to rescue a turtle with our WTW Bycatch Programme. With his canoe, he came from the other side of the creek (Uyombo) to the KWS offices. Some rangers at the office began questioning him and he explained to them why he had the turtle. He explained that the turtle was entangled in his fishing net and he was taking it to WTW. They called Kahindi to come for the turtle. Initially they thought he was going to do harm to the turtle. In those days the only available phone was a public phone booth at the post office and any fishermen who was concerned for the welfare of the turtles, had to go to a lot of trouble and time to reach us.
For many years, the old man continued to fish and teach young men in Uyombo how to become good fishermen and about turtles and how to save them. One of his protégé, is a man named George Kalama, who has rescued many mature green turtles with us.
During his days, Mzee Mohammed Shariff says he learnt from LOT: WTW the importance of conserving the marine environment. He learnt a lot about fishing methods and was in the front line fighting against ring netting in 2004, 2005 and 2006 until he was removed from the Uyombo BMU executive board for his stand against ring netting.
He moved to Malindi after his health began to deteriorate until his eventual paralysis. He stays a lot in bed these days, his fishing days long gone but his work saving turtles will forever remain in the hearts of LOT: WTW staff, and his legacy continues with younger fishermen who rescue turtles with us.