As soon as he receives a call from a fisherman who accidentally catches a turtle off Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, Fikiri Kiponda from Local Ocean Conservation jumps into his car to save it.
The job is a far cry from the 44-year previous career as an accountant. He is now dedicated to the protection of endangered turtles which face multiple threats – from pollution to sale for food, traditional medicine or jewelry making.
When Kiponda receives a call for help, he hastens to check if the turtle is not injured and needs treatment in the organization’s rehabilitation center. Then he is released in Watamu National Marine Park.
“By the time I tag a healthy turtle and release it back into the ocean where it’s supposed to be, the feeling is just overwhelming,” he said.
Kenya has five species of sea turtles. All are internationally recognized as endangered and protected by local law with a sentence of life imprisonment.
Local Ocean Conservation works on local solutions with local communities. Kiponda and others visit regularly to talk about the importance of a healthy ocean for livelihoods.
Over 350 Watamu fishermen have worked with the group for years. Previously, when they caught turtles in their nets, they would often kill them for food, for traditional medicinal purposes, or to keep their shells as trophies.
Ingestion of plastics in the ocean remains another threat to turtles, causing internal blockages that can be fatal.
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