Launched in 1990 by American Tortoise Rescue, the initiative behind this worldwide day recognises that these reptiles are on the edge of extinction due to ever-changing climate issues, in addition to hunting and harvesting of eggs by both humans and predators. Sadly, hunting also includes the harvest of turtle and tortoise shells.
Extreme E partnered with the Ba’a Foundation in 2021 for the inaugural Desert X Prix to collaborate as part of the Ras Baridi Turtle Conservation Initiative project. The Ba’a Foundation aspires to preserve the local environment, promote a culture of conscious environmental practices, and contribute to achieving sustainable environmental development. This conservation initiative focuses on two species: the endangered Green Turtle and the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle.
Located in Ras Baridi, the marine conservation project looks at both global and location-specific threats to the turtles including:
- Rising sea levels (in Ras Baridi, around 90% mortality of eggs due to nests flooding)
- Wind-blown cement dust
- Beach erosion
- Nesting habitat loss
- Beach drives
- Egg poaching
- Light pollution
- Plastic pollution and fishing gear entanglement
Why are they endangered and needing our protection? The species are in an extreme race of their own. When turtles hatch, they must travel 20 metres in around 30 seconds for survival. Their reward? 100 years of cruising the ocean.
Sea turtles are a High Conservation Priority species under the Saudi Arabia Wildlife Authority protection scheme, but no specific protection has been given to the nesting beaches. Nevertheless, a new Commission for the Conservation of Sea Turtles and Corals has just been established in KSA, with Extreme E’s own Professor Carlos Duarte appointed to the Board of Directors.
Professor Carlos M. Duarte, Professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Extreme E Climate Change Scientist, said: “Extreme E’s project has inspired a global programme that models and forecasts future risks to sea turtles around the world, mobilising scientists worldwide to start intervening in beaches to try to secure a future for sea turtles. Sea turtles have shown resilience, being around us for millions of years but now they need a helping hand, which Extreme E and Ba’a Foundation are delivering.”
With Extreme E’s support, the Ba’a Foundation built a hatchery, allowing eggs to be moved from areas of risk and the hatching process to occur in a controlled environment. Since opening a visitor centre they have championed education in schools, guided walks to nesting areas, employing Turtle Wardens, and reducing off-road driving.
Since the project began, the turtle monitoring work has achieved much success. Significant highlights include three female turtles rescued, over 750 hatchlings guided to sea and 20 nests excavated.
Tortoises, such as this one in Senegal, are also recognised on World Turtle Day
The Ras Baridi Turtle Conservation Initiative now enters a busy period, focussing on the nesting seasons for the Green Turtle and Hawksbill Turtle. Nesting between April and July, the Hawksbill are currently the focal point of the project, with the Green Turtles beginning to nest from May until November. Together the Ba’a Foundation and Extreme E will continue to improve nesting success while furthering turtle research and awareness of environmental issues on a global scale.
One of the turtles based at MEDSEA's centre dedicated to the rehabilitation of marine animals
As well as the Desert X Prix, Extreme E focussed efforts on helping turtle conservation in Sardinia, Italy. Collaborating with the Island X Prix’s legacy partner, MEDSEA (Mediterranean Sea and Coast Foundation), the Championship supports work centred around seagrass and the biodiversity of ecosystems in the Mediterranean, which includes a centre dedicated to the rehabilitation of marine animals including turtles.
July sees Extreme E return to Sardinia for a double-header that will see double the action and ultimately double the impact when it comes to the environmental issues in the area.