Three species of marine turtles nest on the beaches of Ghana: the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelyes olivacea) and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas). GWS has been working on research and conservation, addressing the sources of mortality threatening the sea turtles of Ghana. Some of these threats include slaughtering of adult females for meat when they come ashore to lay and the destruction of their eggs by humans and domestic animals. Recent surveys along the coast of Ghana have shown a high concentration of turtle nesting activities in the 80km stretch of beach between Prampram and Ada, in the Greater Accra region of Ghana. It is thought that the reason for this occurrence is that communities in these areas do not kill turtles as they are regarded as gods. There is however a high number of unexplained turtle strandings in this area. As a first step in its turtle conservation efforts, GWS has formed a 20-member turtle task force in this area to carry out turtle rescues and collect data on nesting activities as well as carry out educational activities related to turtle conservation in their various communities.
More recent surveys by GWS indicate that significant nesting activities occur in other parts of the Ghanaian coast especially the Central and Western regions. Threats faced by turtles in these two regions are more intense than in other parts of Ghana. Here there are organised groups of people who go out to sea purposely to hunt for turtles, and this situation is prevalent in about 80% of coastal communities in these two regions. It is also estimated that about 2/3 of all turtles that come ashore to nest are slaughtered by locals in these regions. Intensive public education campaigns are planned in these communities where the hunting of turtles is rampant. This campaign will be centered on educating the people on the importance and benefits that can be derived from marine turtle conservation. Research will also be carried out to determine the cause(s) of the turtle strandings. Tagging will also be done to determine the migratory patterns of nesting populations in Ghana.
To illustrate the problems faced in our country, we relate an anecdote from one of our coastal surveys, undertaken with staff from the RSPB and a reporter from the BBC to investigate reports on turtle slaughtering at Senya Breku in the Central region of Ghana. Arriving in the town we were directed to a popular turtle hunter in town who agreed to grant us an interview on his turtle hunting operations, having been assured of no arrest. When asked if he was the only person involved in turtle hunting in the town, he answered that there were many people other than him involved in this business but could not give an estimate of their numbers. On how long he had hunted turtles, he said he had hunted them since age 16 and was 73 years old at present. According to him, he kills an average of 8 turtles every nesting season, approximately one turtle each month. Asked if he was aware of having killed an estimated 400 turtles through his operations, he indicated he was not conscious of this fact as turtles keep coming to the beach to nest. He was then asked to compare the populations of turtles 30 years ago and that of the past few years. He admitted a gradual decline in the turtle populations but attributed it to the belief that the turtles have gotten clever and are more cautious when coming to the beach to nest.
We went on to ask him about how he carried out his operations and who his customers were. In reply, he said he patrols the 5km stretch of sandy beach (this makes up about 60% of the beach in the Senya area) every night during the nesting season with the exception of rainy days and Sundays. According to him, he manages to kill nesting turtles that he comes across during his patrols by repeatedly hitting the head with a machete. He then goes on to collect eggs from the nest. Unable to move the turtle all by himself, he goes back to town to mobilize people to come and help him drag it to town. He usually sells the whole turtle to market women in the town who are his regular customers for about ¢10,000.00 (US$2) for a mature leatherback. These customers end up cutting and smoking the turtle from which they can make a total of ¢120,000.00 (US$24) from retailing.
One interesting discovery from this interview was the turtle hunter’s ability
to determine that female sea turtles lay between 3 to 4 clutches of eggs for
each season. Asked how he was able to determine this, he indicated that there
are times that he is unable to kill a turtle during an operation and ends up
injuring it. Through this process he leaves a mark on the turtle and in this way
he is able to identify it when he comes across it another time. Therein, lies an
important lesson, which we at the GWS feel should be stressed, if we are to
learn about our declining biological resources quickly, so that they be better
managed, the first people we should ask are those who have been exploiting