THE PROTECTION OF THE MARINE TORTOISES

In Congo, the nesting of the tortoises primarily begins between October and April, and peaks during December, November and January. There are eight species of Marine Tortoises in the world. However, only five of them reach the Congolese borders. The "Luths" and "Olivâtres" tortoises are two species which lay most regularly on the beaches of Congo. The "Green" tortoises are rarer in the area. Those occasionally seen are primarily the young that are accidentally caught in fishing nets, nevertheless, some specimens have been observed during their nesting. As for the "Imbriquées" and "Caouannes" tortoises, some carapaces were found in various places but nothing yet really proves that Congo could be a site of nesting for them.

Threatened Species
The marine tortoises are dwindling in numbers. Many threats weigh on them throughout all stages of their life: during the incubation of eggs (men, crabs, insects, mongooses, etc), during hatching (birds, monitors, dogs, etc), then at sea and at during adulthood (sharks, pollution, fishing nets, etc). Even if these species could benefit from international laws which protect them and prohibit their trade, rare are the countries which enforce them. More often are they driven out by the encroachment of man and/or their eggs are consumed by other wildlife. In 1980 the population of luths tortoises was estimated at 309,000 specimens in the whole world. Ten years later, it was not more than 100,000. One can thus assume that if the laws of protection are not applied, the species will quickly disappear.

Animals Still Little Known
Many mysteries remain of the elusive marine tortoises. From their life at sea to their difficult adolescence. Even if one could follow their migrations, the reasons for which they traverse such long distances still remain unknown. The lifestyle of the majority of the species during their adolescence is a mystery. Indeed, there exists little data on their life (diet, behavior, etc) since they leave the beach before they reach the adult state.

An Ecological Interest
In nature all is interrelated. Each animal and each plant have its role. The smallest change can disturb a whole environment. For example, the luths tortoises feed almost exclusively on jellyfishes of which they follow the migrations. If tortoises came to disappear, the number of jellyfishes would rise consequently, which directly affects our ecosystem. For example, areas which have been seriously affected by jellyfish blooms include the northern Gulf of Mexico. In that case, moon jellies have formed a kind of gelatinous net that stretches from end to end across the gulf.

An Economic Interest
Marine tortoises are among the many natural treasures of Congo. These species will be a valuable asset for the country's developing tourist sector as it rises to the level of tourism in other popular African countries.

For more information and to support Renatura Congo, the Association for the Protection of the Marine Tortoises in the Congo, click here .

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