As I write this I am less than 24 hours away from embarking on my trip to Cabo Verde. Despite it being a family holiday, whilst I am there I hope to achieve my PADI Open Water qualification as well as participating in conservation at a local level. As with most places I travel to, before I head out there I am keen to familiarise myself with the key environmental issues that are occurring within the Cabo Verde islands and whether there may be anything I can do to help whilst I am out there. Is Cabo Verde truly a tropical paradise, filled with pristine coral reefs and plentiful fish stocks? It certainly looks glorious in all of the brochures; unfortunately, I have my doubts.
A quick Google search and the first thing I am presented with is an illegal trade in sharks – specifically blue sharks and shortfin makos. The late Rob Stewart, the filmmaker and conservationist behind Sharkwater, is thought to have discovered an illegal trade in blue sharks present in Cabo Verde not long before his death. During a 10 week voyage conducted by Greenpeace between February and May this year, a number of vessels were found to be carrying out illegal practices, such as shark finning and fishing without licences. These infractions stem much further from simply breaking the law though, as many of the boats boarded by Greenpeace volunteers belonged to international boats, originating from countries such as Korea, Italy and China. According to Quartz Media, Western Africa is thought to lose as much as $2 billion each year due to illegal fishing. The socio-economic and environmental consequences of over-fishing of any species, not just sharks, are incredibly complex and inter-connected. In the case of sharks, removing apex predators such as these from the food web can result in trophic cascades, decimating populations of other species further down the web. With a number of threats already stacked up against marine species populations, from ocean acidification to plastic pollution, it is looking increasingly likely that our wild fish stocks will diminish globally, sooner rather than later if no action is taken.
Tragically, another massive conservation issue that was highlighted by my Google search was the poaching of sea turtles. In my ignorance, I wasn’t even aware that the poaching of sea turtles was happening. Previously, I believed the poaching of their eggs and their entanglement in trawler nets and longlines to be the greatest threats to sea turtles globally. According to the Turtle Foundation, in 2007 more than 1,000 female loggerhead sea turtles were slaughtered upon their arrival on Boa vista Island, Cabo Verde to lay their eggs. Thankfully, after the implementation of a protection and surveillance programme by the Turtle Foundation, the following year saw a 90% reduction in mortality.
Whilst I am there I am also keen to see the difference that tourism has made, both on the local population and on the environment. Often you hear stories of tourism having catastrophic impacts on the environment, for example through excessive pollution, overexploitation of resources and further industrial development. I am intrigued to see whether the local population are being exploited by massive hotel chains, or whether they are also reaping the benefits that economic developments can cause.
Most importantly, I don’t want to approach this holiday as just lounging around on a beach for two weeks. During my exploration of Sal, Cape Verde I really hope to immerse myself on the island, in it’s people and it’s culture, whilst also educating myself about the ecology of the island and the challenges it faces. Despite being incredibly exciting to also catch some sunrays, I am somewhat apprehensive about the state of the marine ecology I will find.