By: Emmanuel Akumun

As I write this, with the nostalgia of standing on the golden shores of Ghana as I like to do on the weekends, watching the waves gently caress the sandy beaches, I am reminded of the hidden treasures that lie beneath the azure waters. Ghana's coastline stretches for miles, and beneath the waves, a remarkable and ancient marvel faces extinction – the sea turtles. Ghana’s coastline is nesting grounds for five of the seven known species of sea turtles. These gentle giants, ranging from the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle to the loggerheads, call our shores home, but their existence here is perilous. They face many threats from humans, habitat degradation, and the changing tides of tourism.

“All sea turtles are endangered here in Ghana; most of their threat is poaching. A lot of fishermen or fisher folk and some communities feed on the sea turtles. Their meat and their eggs. You should see some videos, it’s really disheartening when you see them killing the sea turtles. Some of them will actually wait for a sea turtle to lay the eggs, then they’ll take the sea turtle and also fetch all the eggs”Said Betty Delali Dordzie from the Wildlife and Human Resources Organization (WHRO) Ghana on this week’s episode of the SDGHub on Asaase Radio 99.5.

Yet, there is hope on the horizon, as the recent second gathering of passionate advocates – the 2nd Ghana National Sea Turtle Conference signals a brighter future for these magnificent creatures.

The Gathering of Guardians

From 29-30 August in Accra, the 2nd Ghana National Sea Turtle Conference unfolded, offering a glimmer of hope for the sea turtles that grace our coastline. Organized and hosted by the Department of Marine and Fisheries Sciences of the University of Ghana, this conference served as a rallying point for stakeholders dedicated to the conservation of these marine wonders. Themed "Enhancing Collaborative Efforts for Sea Turtle Conservation," the conference aimed to address the mounting challenges that sea turtles face and advocate for collaborative conservation efforts.

This event marked a significant step forward in fostering collaboration among local sea turtle conservation organizations, governmental bodies, researchers, and fishing communities. The theme of the conference aligned with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, focusing on Life Below Water, particularly targeting goals related to marine pollution prevention, sustainable management of marine ecosystems, and the conservation of coastal areas.
Prominent organizations such as Wildlife and Human Resources Organization (WHRO), A ROCHA Ghana, Strategic Youth Network for Development, Envaserv Research Consult, Keta Ramsar NGO, Environmental Justice Foundation, Ghana Turtle Conservation Project, and Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) came together to share insights, strategies, and best practices. Their collective mission: to combat the pressing challenges faced by sea turtles on Ghana's coastline.

Throughout the conference, various sessions featured engaging project and research presentations, shedding light on the initiatives undertaken by participating organizations. The threats identified included poaching, bycatch from fishing activities, plastic pollution, and the emergence of tourism activities centered around beaches.

A Call to Action

The conference culminated with participants engaging in breakout sessions, generating invaluable insights and recommendations for sea turtle conservation. These included the need for enhanced educational efforts in schools, securing funding, collaboration between stakeholders and local communities, robust law enforcement, awareness campaigns, and improved coordination among various sea turtle projects.

One tangible outcome of this gathering was the establishment of National Sea Turtle Week and Day, set to be observed on the last Friday of August annually. This initiative, which would be a week-long exercise, is poised to heighten awareness and rally support for Ghana's ongoing conservation of sea turtles.

In a collective statement, conference attendees underscored the importance of united action to protect these invaluable marine species. The event emphasized that it is only through collaborative and concerted efforts that the future of Ghana's sea turtles can be secured, ensuring these amazing creatures continue to grace the country's shores for generations to come.

Continuing the Conversation on YRE’s SDGHub

To maintain momentum and reach a wider audience, Young Reporters for the Environment Ghana(YRE) on her weekly SDGHub program, hosted Dr. Andrews Agyekumhene, a lecturer and moderator of the just-concluded National Sea Turtle Conference from the Department of Marine and Fisheries Sciences of the University of Ghana, along with Betty Delali Dordzi, Project Manager of Wildlife and Human Resources Organisation Ghana. The topic of discussion: Ghana's sea turtles, threats, realities, and prospects.

The impacts of climate change, plastic pollution, and poaching on the population of sea turtles in Ghana, as in many other coastal regions, are concerning and multifaceted. Sea turtles, including species like the leatherback, loggerhead, and green sea turtle, face a variety of threats that affect their survival and reproductive success.

"Sea turtles exhibit Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination(TSD), meaning that the temperature at which their eggs incubate influences the sex of the hatchlings. Warmer temperatures tend to produce more female hatchlings which is what our current research shows that we’re experiencing in Ghana, while cooler temperatures result in more males." Said Dr. Andrews while on the SDGHub.

Photo: YRE// From left Emmanuel Aboagye-Wiafe, Rosemary Balami, Betty Delali Dordzi, Dr Andrews Agyekumhene

Plastic pollution is also a significant threat to sea turtles. Sea turtles often mistake water-filled white plastic bags for jellyfish and ingest them or become entangled in plastic debris, which can lead to injury or death. Ingested plastics can also block their digestive tracts, added Betty.

But as I reflect on the issues raised during the conference and the dedication of those who champion these remarkable creatures, I am filled with hope. Ghana's sea turtles face challenges, but they also have a growing community of advocates determined to ensure their survival. With continued collaboration, education, and awareness, we can ensure that these ancient mariners continue to grace our shores, reminding us of the fragile beauty of our coastal ecosystems and the importance of their preservation.