Up until 2015, Doyinsola Ogunye, founder of the Mental and Environmental Development Initiative for Children (MEDIC), did not know that sea turtles existed in Nigeria. She started working in the conservation sector around 2008 because she saw how people improperly managed waste and she wanted to do something about it. Her organization strives to build a children-led revolution for a clean world.
“We started with teaching children how to clean the environment and scaled up to recycling. In 2015, I was able to adopt a beach called the Kids Beach Garden and we started doing a lot of training on the shorelines of Lagos state.”
But while she and the kids were cleaning the shorelines, she found another thing of interest: sea turtles. “While I found myself on that side of town, the beaches, that’s when I found out that we had sea turtles in Nigeria. I found out that sea turtles are critically endangered and there was really nothing done to protect [them] in Nigeria. So that’s when I fell in love with the idea of getting people to understand the issues we were facing and more importantly why people should do something about it,” she said.
Now, Ogunye said they have saved over 40 turtles from poachers, mostly olive ridley sea turtles and leatherbacks. Many of her rescues are uploaded on her social media accounts where she also accepts rescue requests.
Unprotected, sea turtles are threatened by overexploitation
“Overexploitation of marine resources pose a threat to their population and ultimate survival. Sea turtle(s are) one of the endangered marine species whose conservation must be taken seriously because of their economic advantages,” said Gideon Adeyemi et al, from Covenant University Ota Ogun State, in a research study.
According to them, “human interferences with the habitat and procreation process of sea turtles have been observed to be one of the main causes of reduction in their population.” Their research on the interplay between sea turtle population and income generation in Nigeria’s Southwest coastal environment revealed that humans hunt sea turtle eggs for consumption, thereby disrupting the procreation process of the marine creature.
Ogunye affirms the findings of this research. “Most of the turtles we find on our shorelines are actually female turtles that come to nest,” she said.
Calls for Protection and Sensitization
Ogunye says that a lack of awareness and law enforcement as the major challenges to her conservation efforts. She called for more support from the government, donations from citizens to carry out swift rescue activities, and enforcement of laws. “We have so many laws that are not enforced. I think the government should enforce where possible. There has to be a lot of heavy sensitization from the government’s point of view so that the citizens can understand the importance of sea turtles [to] aquatic biodiversity. The laws are there but they are not enforced.”
Gideon Adeyemi et al also called for more to be done in terms of raising awareness on sea turtles’ conservation and protection. “Policy monitoring and implementation on endangered species conservation must be implemented and monitored in Nigeria,” they said. “Another major issue that we have is that even when we rescue this turtle, we have to rehabilitate this turtle and release. There is no aquarium and there is no sanctuary that can actually house this turtle for a while that is close to the beach,” Ogunye said.
Today, a small area is set aside at the Kids Beach Garden for a sea turtle sanctuary where Ogunye also teaches people and encourages them to continue spreading the word about sea turtle rescue in Lagos state.