A new study has highlighted the rising risk posed by plastic pollution to the endangered sea turtles in the country.
A census by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) along the coastline says the population of sea turtles stands at only 450.
The reports say balloons, plastic bags, recreational fishing lines, and food wrappers are killing marine animals as they eat the items that later perforate internal organs, or become entangled and drown.
KWS acting director general Dr Erustus Kanga says the census was released in the last two months.
Dr Kanga, however, says the number of sea turtles has been declining due to climate change affecting their ecology, plastic pollution, fishermen destroying their nests, and increased human activities like building of hotels along the coastline.
‘’Plastics can obstruct their digestion or lacerate their intestines, and all of this can interfere with their ability to feed and obtain the nourishment they need. These problems can lead to an animal’s starvation and death,” he said
Many turtle species have also had their habitat destroyed by the overdevelopment of holiday resorts while some are killed accidentally by fishing nets and other equipment.
Speaking during World Sea turtle day in Mombasa, Kanga said various efforts are being put in place to avert the looming situation.
He says there is a need to cut the level of plastic waste and pursue biodegradable alternatives if we are to tackle this grave threat to turtles’ welfare.
‘’We are working hard to try to save these precious animals and protect their habitat. Going forward, we are aiming at creating more public awareness to the community, training the fishermen on how to guard the nests,’’ he says.
Human activity such as killing turtles for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells has also been cited as a major threat.
“Poaching is still a threat. We currently have about three active cases in court. We confiscated a boat that was carrying sea turtle meat,” he said.
On Friday, dozens of endangered green turtles were released into the ocean at the Nyali beach in Mombasa County. A total of 148 green turtles were released to the sea, in an effort to boost the sea turtles population along the coastline.
Green turtles are endangered, and their populations have reduced in the last three generations. But conservation projects are helping some populations stay afloat.
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Speaking at the event, Tourism Chief Administrative Secretary Wilson Sossion urged the public to be responsible and particularly asked fishermen to use appropriate gear in the sea.
‘’I urge the public to stop throwing plastic around the beach. This way we will be saving the lives of hundreds of turtles,’’ he said.
Stakeholders have also raised concern over increasing plastic pollution around the Kenyan coastline, stating that plastics dumped on the shores, brought in by rivers flowing into the ocean, runoff rainwater, and ocean currents from countries neighbouring the Indian Ocean, such as Zanzibar, Comoros, and Mauritius are endangering the sea turtles as they are unable to set up nests in the sandy ocean shores.
Dr.Mohhamed Omar, the principal research scientist at the Wildlife Research and Training Institute, said the plastic menace affecting the turtle nestings is mainly brought by sea waves, and it is highly affecting conservation work to the whole marine ecosystem.
“Marine species and terrestrial species are highly affected and there is a need for countries neighbouring the Indian Ocean to come up with laws to protect the ocean from plastics.
‘’Climate change also has an impact on turtle nesting sites; by changing the temperature of the sand, the gender of the hatchlings is affected. So there are too many females and not enough males to help numbers grow,” he noted.
He further noted that plastics have been found in fish digestive systems before cooking. This also puts the lives of humans that feed on these fish at risk.
Scientists estimate that 15 million tonnes of plastic wash into the ocean every year, or about two garbage trucks’ worth of plastic every minute.