Quiet beaches help Senegal's endangered turtles

On a moonlit shore in Western Senegal, baby turtles sprint towards the Atlantic Ocean.

The West African country’s sandy beaches are historic nesting sites for several threatened sea turtles species.

But in recent decades increased fishing, tourism and construction have deterred the country’s three species of turtle - which all appear on the extinction Red List - from nesting along its urban coasts.

However, the global health crisis and its accompanying restrictions, which led to darker beaches with less light pollution, has had a positive impact on the turtles.

This is Saliou Mbodji from the Somone Marine Protection Area:

"The borders were closed, so there were not many people on the beaches or the hotels. There was less light and so more turtles came to lay their eggs on the beaches. This is why since last year we've seen such a return of sea turtles here. Although there were small nests identified here and there, last year we saw a great influx."

In Guereo, just south of the capital Dakar, fifteen turtles nested on the beach last season, up from just two the previous year, according to environment ministry records.

But as more people return, the turtles keep their distance.

Researcher and marine conservationist Charlotte Thomas has a stark warning if nesting rates return to pre-pandemic levels:

“Turtles, for those who do not know, play the role of ocean cleaner, and they are often called ocean garbage collectors elsewhere. They regulate marine algae by eating them, and marine algae is depended upon by lot on other species such as tuna, lobster and shrimp. If these turtles were to disappear, that would create an imbalance in the food chain and threaten the entire ecosystem.”

In the meantime, baby turtles continue to make their way towards the ocean, with the help of volunteers.

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