Sal Island in Cape Verde is one of the world’s largest nesting sites for loggerhead turtles. Loggerhead turtles are a cultural and environmental icon in Sal. Their image is on the island’s national currency, and they serve an essential role in the island’s marine ecosystem. Even still, loggerhead turtles and their nests remain threatened by human-driven threats such as poaching, pollution, and dog predation. Thankfully, through their community initiatives and conservancy work, the Project Biodiversity team has made successful strides in protecting these important but vulnerable sea animals.
Project Biodiversity is an environmental conservation NGO based in Sal. They work with both local and international volunteers to conserve and restore the island’s ecosystem. Their primary mission is the protection of loggerhead turtles and their nests on the island. As stated by Shannon Sutherland, Manager of Communications and Marketing at Project Biodiversity, “The program combines conservation with direct protection.” Project Biodiversity offers various initiatives, including Environmental Outreach and Education, the Guardians of the Sea Program, and the Sea Turtle Conservation and Seabird Monitoring campaigns.
Volunteers who participate in the Sea Turtle Conservation campaign assist by doing nightly patrols of the beach to protect the nesting turtles and collect data with field assistants to track their nesting activities. They also help with hatchling releases, hatchery maintenance, and community outreach. The nesting season takes place from June to mid-October. As a volunteer in the Seabird monitoring program, participants help local biologists collect data about the different bird colonies and populations on the island. Because this program welcomes only two volunteers at a time, the work is a bit more hands-on; however, volunteers in the Seabird monitoring program work with experienced conservationists.
Before COVID-19, Project Biodiversity hosted many international volunteers. However, due to the pandemic, they only had four international volunteers in 2020. “For international volunteers that were supposed to come, the borders were closed in March. Many were not comfortable with traveling at that time and rescheduled for later in the season. The borders didn’t open until mid to late August. We usually have about 70 volunteers in the sea turtle program each year. Only four international participants volunteered; two were from Spain, and two were from the US. We were really lucky to have their help,” says Débora Newlands, Volunteer Coordinator at Project Biodiversity. The team was fortunate to have local volunteers join them in their efforts in 2020. Débora states, “It was really important to have local volunteers get involved in 2020. This was a record season for us. We had over 35,000 nests all over the island, so it was really important, and we really value them.” Even with the local effort, the team would love to continue their international program, especially with the record increase in nests last year.
How you can help
Project Biodiversity is currently accepting applications for international volunteers. Participants should be 18 years old and over and have a passion for preservation and environmental protection. They should be comfortable working outside at night for the Sea Turtle program or working around rocky mountain areas for the Seabird Monitoring program. Volunteers should also be welcome to working with people from different backgrounds. No prior experience or degree is required. Volunteers need to have comprehensive health or travel insurance that includes any COVID testing. They should also have a negative PCR test.
Safety Measures in place
COVID-19 safety measures are in place. Shannon reported that the island was fortunate not to have been as devastated by the pandemic as other parts of the world. The team follows all the World Health Organization protocols to ensure everyone’s safety. They avoid huge migrations of people and ensure that everyone maintains the required 6 feet of distance from each other. The work is done mostly outdoors in an open-spaced campsite and the beach, making it easier to maintain the required 6 feet space when possible. Volunteers need to wear their masks and use hand sanitizers. The team also takes safety precautions when using transportation around the island.
Notwithstanding the challenges brought on by the pandemic last year, Project Biodiversity has continued to push through and continue progress in its mission. Shannon says, “every year, we are increasingly impressed by the results of our sea turtle protection program. In spite of COVID, we were able to continue the work and tackle it when it was almost double the work that we usually aren’t accustomed to. That is definitely a success in the face of COVID.”