WATAMU, Kenya (AP) — As soon as he gets a call from a fisherman who’s accidentally caught a turtle off Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastline, Local Ocean Conservation’s Fikiri Kiponda jumps into his car to save it.
The work is far removed from the 44-year-old’s previous career as an accountant. He now dedicates himself to protecting endangered turtles that face multiple threats — from pollution to being sold for food, traditional medicinal purposes or the making of jewelry.
When Kiponda gets a call for help, he hurries to check the turtle for injuries that need to be treated in the organization’s rehabilitation center. Then it is released back into Watamu National Marine Park.
“The moment I tag a healthy turtle and release it back to the ocean where it is supposed to be, the feeling is just overwhelming,” he said.
Kenya has five species of sea turtles. All are internationally recognized as endangered, and protected under local law with a penalty of life imprisonment.
Local Ocean Conservation works on grassroots solutions with local communities. Kiponda and others regularly visit to speak about the importance of a healthy ocean to livelihoods.
Over 350 fishermen in Watamu have collaborated with the group for years. Previously, when they caught turtles in their nets, they often would kill them for food, traditional medicinal purposes or to keep their shells as trophies.
The ingestion of plastics in the ocean remains another threat to the turtles, causing internal blockages that can be fatal.