On Manda Island in the Lamu archipelago

Above: Green Turtles hatching on Manda Island – Copyright Maya Mangat

“The turtles are hatching today,” announced an excited Famau Shukri of Lamu Marine Conservation Trust ( LaMCoT) over the phone. With exciting news like this first thing in the morning, l jumped out of bed and raced down the two flights of steps of Amu House, the historical 16th century old house in Lamu. “The turtles are hatching today,” l relayed the news to everyone at breakfast and plans immediately changed to sail to Shela the neighbouring village to Lamu Stone Town to meet up with Shukri.

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Lamu Fort, Mkunguni Square – Copyright Maya Mangat

Things looked a little grey as the skies over Lamu Stone Town opened up and poured in the narrow alley and on the ocean. Would the little turtles really want to hatch in the rain? l pondered. Meanwhile, as we waited for the rain to stop, the silversmith’s shop looked enticing for some shopping. The porcelain shard ring cast in silver are a must-buy in Lamu for the shards are remnants of porcelain plates and bowls from the dhow-trading days of centuries ago.

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Transport on the isles of Lamu – copyright Maya Mangat

Just as suddenly as the rain began, out popped a blue sky and we were on our way to Shela on a small motorboat painted ‘Uber’.

Meeting up with Shukri at the Shela seafront, we then sailed across the Lamu channel that divides the two islands of Lamu and Manda. A dhow laden with coral bricks sailed past at full mast by the village of Luo men specialising in chiselling coral blocks. It even has a statue of a block-maker with a stack of coral blocks on his shoulder to carry down to the dhow. These men are pure steel.

Sailing through the mangroe creeks to Manda Island – copyright Maya Mangat

Sprangled roots of the mangroves patterned the narrow maze of creeks along the beach at low tide on the beautiful afternoon. Climbing up the narrow path through a glade of acacias to reach the homesteads of the Orma, traditionally pastoral people, several men now work for LaMCoT as guardians of the turtle nests. In the past, these same men happily raided the nests for the turtle eggs for food.

With bated breath, we followed Shukri and the turtle guardians down the dune and the most magical view came into a sight. A vast open ocean meeting the sky and above the high water mark. The Orma ranger and Shukri began unearthing the turtle nest wearing surgical gloves so as not to imprint their human mark on the newly hatched.

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Manda Island where the turtles lay their eggs in sand nests – copyright Maya Mangat

Out popped the little turtles – Green turtles –the size of my palm – and with their little flippers crossed the sandy beach and then vanished into the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean with a rainbow arched across the sky – a surreal moment.

Green Turtle dashing to the Indian Ocean, Manda Island – copyright Maya Mangat

Marine turtles are critically endangered across the globe. This ancient mariner of the oceans has outlived the dinosaur but now faces increasingly more challenges. Out of every 1000 hatched, only one makes it to adult hood. Their life is fraught with people and wild animals including snakes and monitor lizards raiding the nests; birds and crabs waiting to swallow  the little babes to fishing nets poachers, big ships and clearing mangrove forests and beaches for building ports and in Kenya, the proposed coal-fired power plant.

But with groups like LaMCoT, life for the turtle is better as it patrols the turtle nests on Shela and Manda Island.

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Famau of LaMCoT about to release a tagged turtle at Peponi on Shela

“Since the project began in 1997, our turtles survival rate is 10 out of 1000,” tells Shukri. “This year, we have had six nests in Shela and ten on Manda so far. Our data dates back from 1997. From 1997-2017 it is as follows: Manda- 723 nests and Shela with 180 nests.”

Over 4,500 turtles that were caught accidentally in fishing nets, have been tagged, and released back into the ocean under a sponsorship programme which anyone can sign on to. “Our tagged turtles have been sighted in Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa and even up to Asia,” tells Shukri.

Since 1997, the project has recorded 91,669 successfully hatched baby turtles out of the 101,447 which translates to a successful hatching rate of 90.4 – with the rate of poaching reduced by 90 per cent.

Interesting facts about Turtles of Lamu and Manda Islands

  • Green Turtle –most common turtle species in Lamu, followed by the Hawksbill and Olive Ridley species. Rarely seen are the Leatherback and Loggerhead.
  • Green turtles live up to 80 to 100 years. The mother/females will return to the beach they were laid on to lay their nests.

Keep updated on LaMCoT’s turtle project:  www.lamcot.org

 Fly Airkenya to Lamu – it’s only an hour’s flight from Nairobi.

Landing with Air Kenya on Manda Island Lamu. Copyright Rupi Mangat