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The Triumphant Crawl of Cape Verde's Turtles

By November 22, 2022 0
A loggerhead turtle crawling back to the ocean A loggerhead turtle crawling back to the ocean Photo by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Curral Velho location and unique attributes

Curral Velho (Portuguesse for – Old Coral) is and Important Bird Area (IBA) and a Ramsar site that is located in Cape Verde’s Boa Vista Island. This island is one of Cape Verde’s three nesting grounds for loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta). The other two are Sal and Maio. In addition, Curral Velho is one of Cape Verde’s three wetland sites of International Importance. The other two are Lagoa de Rabil and Lagoa de Pedra Badejo.

The Ramsar Sites Information Service (RSIS) spells out Curral Velho’s other marine ecosystem riches:

“It is composed of a permanent coastal lagoon at the mouth of the Ribeira de Brito Cruzinha, temporary coastal lagoons, the surrounding dune ecosystems and beach, and the islet of Curral Velho. All these areas are of ecological and scientific interest due to their isolated location on an oceanic volcanic island.”

RSIS explains further that Curral Velho is surrounded by a permanent and temporary coastal lagoons ornamented by a dune ecosystem, crystal blue waters and serene. Some of the vegetation here include halophytes, tamarisks and palm trees. The birds include: the Cape Verde shearwater (Calonectris edwardsii) and the Cape Verde storm petrel (Oceanodroma jabejabe), two species endemic to the archipelago.

However, the site and the country are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Cape Verde is an isolated small Island with only 10% arable land. Despite its negligible contribution to global warming, Cape Verde is quite vulnerable to sea-level rise and coastal hazards. Moreover, it has low capacity to withstand to all the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events without international assistance.

Rising temperatures are adversely impacting Curral Velho’s biodiversity. New research points to the risk of male loggerhead turtles not being hatched here by the end of this century. This would result in catastrophic effects on the perpetuation of loggerhead turtles. A Study by the University of Exeter also warns that by 2100, more than 90% of loggerhead nests on the Cape Verde islands could incubate at ‘lethally high temperatures,’ killing turtles before they hatch. ‘Cape Verde hosts one of the largest nesting population of loggerhead turtles in the world – up to 15% of the global nesting total,’ said Dr Lucy Hawkes of the University of Exeter.


A Serene beach at Curral Vehlo. Photo by Fulvio Barudoni Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Social and cultural significance

Curral Velho is the oldest settlement in Cape Verde’s Boa Vista (Portuguese for – good view) Island. Although currently deserted, it boasts of a rich history that dates back to the 17th century. The only window into this rich past are ruins that are spread out along the beach. The area around the ruins is an important habitat for seabirds and sea turtles who have been laying eggs there for centuries, long before humans showed up on the island.

Boa Vista, where Curral Velho is located, oozes Cape Verde’s rich culture. It is known as the Island of Morna, Cape Verde’s national music.

In the olden days when Cape Verde’s foreign visitors were a bare trickle, villagers lived in a perfect harmony with each other and with nature. They used to gather in the fishing villages to play and sing serenata and toccatina. Accompanying this music were guitar-like instruments known as cavaquinho. This music acted as a glue for strengthening social relations in the communities. Whenever the music was performed as a spiritual ritual, people would walk to boats in processions that revolved around the santa padroeira – holy patron.  This exemplified the fusion of indigenous customs with Christianity.

Such traditions have mostly fizzled out. Unfortunately, young Cape Verdeans have become unenthusiastic not just about these traditions but also about protected areas sites like Curral Velho, which is located far from inhabited villages. In addition, contemporary tourism often excludes local people, thus breeding local indifference to touristic sites like Curral Velho. It is therefore critical for local Cape Verdeans to be entrenched into the tourism value chain.

Tourism's impact on Cape Verde's Biodiversity

In 2020, tourism contributed $298 million to Cape Verde’s economy, 16.2 percent of the State’s GDP. Unfortunately, some of these tourism gains came at a high cost to the environment.

Seabirds and sea turtles inhabit Curral Velho. Tourism infrastructure has expanded rapidly in the area, in the process adversely impacting nesting turtle’ habitats. Lack of specific environmental legislation has left grey areas that leave the turtles exposed.

Thankfully, environmental organizations have taken years’ long conservation action that is beginning to bear fruit. Consequently, the archipelago has seen a dramatic increase in nesting sites. After years of decline, the populations of both seabirds and turtles have begun to increase.

It is important for these gains to be duly measured and documented. This will inform replicability of best practices.

University of Exeter. No new males: Climate change threat to Cape Verde turtles. ScienceDaily https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190711141302.htm

 CATHERINE BENSON WAHLÉN. UNEP Report Assesses National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs)

Atlas Obscuras https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/curral-velho


https://www.myguidecapeverde.com/travel-articles/sea-turtles-nesting-in-cape-verde#:~:text=Although%20up%20to%20five%20species,of%20loggerheads%20in%20the%20world. Accessed 22 November 2022.

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