The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was concluded under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) auspices and became effective on 1 July 1999. It will remain open for signature indefinitely. It aims at safeguarding six marine turtle species that are estimated to have rapidly declined in numbers during recent years due to excessive exploitation (both direct and incidental) and the degradation of essential habitats.
Marine turtles are thought to be numerous along much of the Atlantic Coast of Africa. The MOU covers coastal areas of 26 countries, extending some 14,000 km from Morocco to South Africa. The area includes nesting sites, feeding areas and migration corridors of importance for six species: the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), the Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), the Atlantic Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) and the Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).
In May 2002, Range States gathered in Nairobi to conclude a comprehensive Conservation Plan. The bulk of the Conservation Plan focuses on the establishment of a database on turtle ecology (distribution, migration patterns, etc) and on threats (nature and extent of direct exploitation, bycatch rate, impact of coastal management, pollution, etc). The project aims to create a monitoring and protection network for nesting and feeding sites in close collaboration with local communities, fishermen, travel operators and coastal developers.
The “Nairobi Declaration", adopted at the conclusion of the May 2002 meeting, drew attention to the problem of marine turtle by-catch in industrial fishing operations and emphasized the importance of involving local communities in the development and implementation of conservation activities.
It also encouraged links with other conventions, intergovernmental bodies and NGOs, and sought the integration of marine turtle conservation measures within the emerging African Process for the Development and Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In April 2013, while appraising the Signatories about the progress on the implementation of the MOU, CMS invited the Signatories for information on their activities and progress on implementation of the Conservation Plan at the national level.
CMS has supported a number of small-scale project activities in various countries, with a view to stimulating broader initiatives. Recognizing a need of centralized information on West-African turtles, CMS funded the most comprehensive review to date on the status of marine turtles of the Atlantic Coast. This document synthesized the knowledge currently available on the marine turtles of West Africa, highlighting some well-established facts, some uncertainties, and conservation measures or applied research that would be advisable to undertake. It is meant to serve as a reference tool for further studies.
CMS has also supported the development of basic training and awareness materials. CMS has funded the production of French language marine turtle identification posters developed by WIDECAST, an NGO working on turtle conservation in the Caribbean. The posters have been distributed widely to countries along the Atlantic Coast of Africa. CMS has also contributed funding towards the production of a long-awaited marine turtle research and management techniques manual.
On the more practical level of marine turtle conservation efforts, CMS has funded a project, which started in 2001 and was successfully concluded in 2003, aimed at uncovering the migratory patterns of the Green Turtle population nesting at Poilão, Guinea-Bissau.
From 2005 to 2012 coordination services for the MOU had been provided by SINEPAD/URTOMA, a Senegal based Coordination Unit. CMS is now exploring avenues for long-term coordination arrangements for the MOU.