Amos (13) and his younger brother, Elvis (12), went out fishing in Mida Creek this morning and came across a small hawksbill turtle trapped in the roots of the mangroves. The two boys rushed over to help the poor animal fearing that they may already be too late. They quickly set about trying to free the turtle and found to their relief that it was still alive.
Amos and Elvis attend Dongo Kundo Primary School, the flagship school for our Education Programme and our Marine Scouts. This meant that they knew just what to do upon finding a turtle and they brought it straight to our Marine Centre. What they didn’t know however, was that the turtle they had so bravely rescued, has a very special story.
This particular juvenile hawksbill turtle was first rescued through our Bycatch Release Programme in June 2015 after it was accidentally caught in a fishing net. At this time, it was a strong and healthy young turtle so after being measured, weighed and fitted with a unique identification tag, the turtle was released into the Watamu Marine National Park.
On the 4th September 2015, our Bycatch Release Team came across the turtle again, although this time it had a large number of barnacles covering its carapace. Hawksbill turtles are critically endangered worldwide and it is estimated that only 1 in 1000 makes it to adulthood. Wanting to give this little turtle the best possible chance, the team admitted it to our specialist Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, where it spent four days receiving treatment for the barnacle infestation. The turtle was once again released into the Watamu Marine National Park.
Just one week later, we received some terrible news. The young turtle had come to our Bycatch Release Team again but this time with a potentially life threatening injury. The turtle had a spear gun wound which appeared to go right through its body, entering through the top of the carapace and exiting underneath on the plastron. The turtle was immediately admitted to our Turtle Rehabilitation Centre for treatment. After x-rays and a thorough examination by local vet, Dr Faraj Feisal, we found out, to our amazement, that the spear had not hit any internal organs. Dr Faraj was able to clean and close the wound to reduce any risk of infection. We named the turtle Bahati, meaning ‘lucky’ in Swahili, and spent two months closely monitoring the turtle and rebuilding its strength. Regular sea baths, where we take turtles swimming in the ocean as part of their rehabilitation, enabled us to monitor Bahati’s progress in his/her natural environment. By the 26th November 2015, Bahati had made a remarkable recovery and during one of these sea baths, we were able to release this hawksbill turtle into the ocean again.
This morning Bahati lived up to the name once more and was rescued by Amos and Elvis. Once Bahati was safely at our Centre, we were able to conduct a full assessment. This is one of the incredible things about our Bycatch Release Programme, sometimes we get to see turtles several times. We can then measure their growth, monitor their health and in certain cases, like Bahati, see how patients we have rehabilitated are coping back in the wild. We were very pleased to see that Bahati’s wounds are nicely healed and that the turtle appears fit and healthy. Looking back at Bahati’s records, this turtle has grown a staggering 9.2cm since June last year and has gained almost 2kgs in weight. Bahati has been released into the Watamu Marine National Park again and we really hope this turtle will be one of the few that makes it, thanks to a bit of help along the way!
Despite its illegality, the slaughtering of turtles, for meat and other products, is still common in coastal culture. This is something we have been combating in the Watamu area for almost 20 years through our practical conservation, environmental education and community outreach programmes. It is incredibly encouraging to see the positive effects of this programme work through the next generation of the local community. Amos and Elvis are a perfect example of this.
We know Amos well through our connection with Dongo Kundu Primary School. He is a keen conservationist and has always shown interest in our work. Despite his young age, Amos stood out on our beach clean event for World Environment Day on the 5th June 2015 when he worked so hard to pick up as much rubbish as possible and to motivate his classmates. Because of his outstanding passion for the environment, Amos recently won a school award for ‘Conservationist of the Year’ and it is clear from his actions saving Bahati this morning that he more than deserves this recognition. We are delighted to see Elvis following in his brother’s footsteps and are so grateful that the two boys were there to save Bahati. Thank you Amos and Elvis, it is very clear that you both Love Your Local Ocean very much!