The sandy beaches in Calheta are often full of people, as tourists and locals alike enjoy a swim in between sunbathing on the lovely yellow sand. But what all the locals know and what most guests have probably guessed, this is not a natural beach. Madeira has a bunch of lovely stone beaches, with the iconic volcanic rocks and pebbles and sometimes even black sand beaches. With warm waters to swim in, fish crabs and other things to see for snorkellers, and a lovely warm sunny climate, these beaches do the trick as well for anyone who is well prepared to handle the rocky surface.
It may strike as strange then, that we so often see turtles on our boat trips, since the absence of sandy beaches means that there is nowhere for the turtles to lay their eggs. Most of the turtles we find on our boat trips are Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) and they mostly come from the sandy beaches of Cape Verde, although some do come from across the Atlantic in south/central American beaches. These turtles go for long swims during their lives, as the stages take place in different locations. Here on madeira, they feed and live until they grow old enough to breed. But the life of a turtle isn’t so easy, in fact with the many threats, both natural by predators and human threats by pollution and fishing, only 1 in 1000 turtles makes it to adulthood!
The conservation effort on Cape Verde tries to ensure that the nests are kept safe from human interaction like tourist on the beach, construction and such, but in order to keep these little animals safe as they hatch in nests of about 80 turtles much more needs to be done. The ocean is so full of plastic and discarded fishing nets that turtles often find themselves trapped within it, or even worse, they eat the plastic, since plastic bags look like their favourite food, jellyfish. So, conservation should start, as always, with responsible consumerism, recycling and a big clean-up project. Until then the turtles will have difficult times ahead.
By Scott Dorssers