Turtle watching on São Tomé and Príncipe – what should I expect and is it sustainable?
Between November and March you’ll have the opportunity to join turtle nesting and hatching trips on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe. Turtles are endangered and the ones you’ll see are incredible because they have survived the gauntlet of today’s sea; they’ve avoided eating too much plastic – in particular turtles can mistake plastic bags for jelly fish and asphyxiate, being fished for food (and their shells which are made into sad little souvenirs) and getting caught in fishing nets.
They migrate thousands of kilometres from their foraging grounds to their nesting sites and when they reach the beach they have a really important job to do in laying eggs that hatch and make it back to the sea. Turtles have an average of 90% hatching success but 1% survival rate up to sexual maturity so every single egg counts.
Turtles return to the same beach every three years, visiting it more than once to lay eggs each season which is between October and February, mainly at night. The beach must be clear of piles of rubbish and free of bright lights as these can disorientate the turtles meaning they lay their eggs too close to shore for them to survive, or travel away from the sand and towards houses etc. The beach also mustn’t have dogs, pigs or humans that will dig up the eggs for food.
Undisturbed beaches are becoming rare, even on São Tomé but thankfully the Santomean NGO MARAPA (Mar Ambiente e Pesca Artesanal – Sea Environment and Artisan Fishing), in partnership with the Portuguese NGO ATM Tartarugas A Salvo, are working hard and fund beach rangers to protect turtles on the beaches at the important breeding grounds of Morro Peixe, Port Alegre and Micolo. In the north of São Tomé, at Morro Peixe and Micolo, all nests are carefully moved from nesting sites to hatcheries as this is the only way to protect them and research is being done to compare hatching success with those left in their original positions.
On Sao Tome, 28 beach and sea rangers, who were previously turtle fisherman, are now paid to protect the turtles not fish them. When you travel with us, a portion of the money you pay for your turtle nesting and turtle hatching trips goes towards this.
On Príncipe, beach rangers on Praia Grande are supported by the Príncipe Trust and half of the money you pay goes directly to the trust.
You can make sure the turtles you observe are not disturbed by keeping to the following rules:
- Only approach a turtle when she has made her nest and is laying her eggs, never before. The turtles enter a trance like state during laying which lasts for some time afterwards but care must always be taken to make sure she isn’t put off from returning to the beach as another one she chooses may not be safe
- Be quiet and move calmly at all times
- Take only red lights with you on trips (you can put red plastic in front of your light) and using as little light as possible
- Try to resist taking photos but if you must, don’t use a flash
- Never touch the turtles – your ranger will take some measurements and fit a tag but this must be the only disturbance
- Never approach the turtles more than two at a time when she is laying her eggs and then only very quietly, keeping your body low to the ground and with permission from the ranger
- Only gather around in groups of more than 4, 6 at the most including the rangers when she has finished laying her eggs and the data measurements are taken.
- Take a bag and pick up any litter you find on the beach
How do I get there?
That’s where we come in. Our team of Activity Holidays Specialists have an extensive knowledge of these islands. We give the most choice and flexibility possible combining activities, accommodation and everything you need for a holiday that you will never forget.
We are a member of AITO (the Association of Independent Tour Operators) which encourages the highest standards in all aspects of tour operating. All members must adhere to the AITO Quality Charter.
Get in touch with us today on 01768 721050 or request a São Tomé holiday brochure.