Fikiri Kiponda is committed to saving the critically endangered sea turtle
Sea turtles caught by fishermen were previously used for meat and their oil extracted for medicinal purposes.
Fikiri Kiponda’s path from accountant to marine conservationist was sparked by a chance encounter.
After securing his dream job, Kiponda decided he wanted more. He wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for until he stumbled across some turtle hatchlings.
“I didn’t know it was turtles,” he told CNN. “Fortunately enough I got the right person to ask, I got motivated and I wanted to learn more about them.”
That person was Nkindi, a staff member at the Watamu Conservation Project who later invited him to volunteer on the project.
He later left his accounting job and fully immersed himself into the world of sea turtles. Now, he runs Watamu and spends his time nursing critically endangered sea turtles back to health.
“I finally I found what I love and I still love it. It never gets old to me”
Critically endangered species
Sea turtles have been around for nearly 110 million years and are now considered highly endangered. Their preservation rests on activities of conservationists such as Kiponda as these turtles face numerous threats and indications of their extinction in the next 50 years.
Local fishermen catch them to supplement their own low catch rates and sell them for their oil which can fetch as much as $40 a liter on the black market. Erosion and increasing infrastructural developments on Kenya’s 600km of coast line also pose a huge threat to turtles. As modifications are made to accommodate more hotels for tourists, there is less available beach land for turtle nesting.
Kiponda’s passion has now spread to his community, changing their attitude towards sea life preservation with his “by-catch release programme.”
“Saving turtles is unique work”
Through this program, fishermen are now remunerated for returning turtles accidentally caught in their fishing nets. The healthy ones are tagged and released into the marine park while he nurtures sick and injured turtles back to health.
Before the launch of initiatives like this, turtles caught by fishermen were used for their meat and their oil extracted for its medicinal properties.
He is also involved in the monitoring of turtle nests on the beach until they hatch successfully.
“Releasing the turtle back into the ocean is a very good feeling, like, you feel like you’ve done something tangible and I guess everybody would love to do that…so I guess it’s unique work.”