This post is one of a series on projects supported by the Anderson Cabot Center’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF). Through MCAF, the Aquarium supports researchers, conservationists, and grassroots organizations around the world as they work to address the most challenging problems facing the oceans.

In 2011, sea turtle specialist Neil Davis and fellow conservationist John Flynn witnessed the rampant poaching of nesting sea turtles and their eggs during a visit to the Western Region of Ghana. They reached out to local village chiefs about the problem, recruited a dedicated team from the community, and began nightly beach patrols to deter poachers. Within a few years, Flynn, Davis, local anti-poaching patrol leader Enock Agyimah, and numerous seasonal staff helped protect thousands of turtle eggs and many nesting turtles from poachers.

rescuers work with turtle
Eric Quayson, left, Wildseas’ Regional Coordinator, and Enock Agyimah, Anti-Poaching Patrol Leader, apply antiseptic cream to a small injury on an olive ridley turtle in Ampenyi, Ghana. The turtle had been freed from a beach seine net.

The conservation mission of the group, now known as Wildseas, soon grew beyond protecting sea turtle nesting beaches. In late 2012, Flynn and Davis’ interpreter, Eric Quayson, alerted them to high bycatch rates of sea turtles in offshore fishing nets. Although the turtles were caught incidentally in the nets, the fishermen were still landing the turtles and selling them for meat. Quayson, who came from a fishing family in the region, helped Flynn and Davis approach local fishermen about this issue, starting in the village of Axim. Together, they secured a commitment from the fishermen to safely release turtles caught in their nets instead of selling them to be butchered.

small fishing village in Africa
Artisanal fishing boats in the port of Axim, Ghana. Wildseas has garnered the cooperation of artisanal fishermen to safely release turtles captured in their nets.

In return, the Wildseas team offered the fishermen nominal compensation as well as safety gear for their boats. They also explained to the fishermen how turtles promote healthy fish stocks as turtles eat jellyfish that prey on juvenile fish and eggs and maintain healthy seagrass beds. Using this approach, the Wildseas team soon garnered commitments from several other fishing villages to be part of the Safe Release program. Since 2012, more than 800 adult turtles have been saved thanks to this program, and more than 500 of these turtles have been fitted with flipper tags so Wildseas can collect data on their movements.

Group of volunteers
These fishermen from the village of Beyin were among the first to join the Safe Release program launched by Wildseas founder John Flynn (front row, center) and co-founder Neil Davis (to the left of Flynn).

A 2015 Marine Conservation Action Fund grant supported further expansion of the Safe Release program to the fishing villages of Essiama and Ampenyi, greatly increasing the number of fishermen committed to saving turtles in the Western Region. Early this year, Flynn, the founder of Wildseas, was selected as an MCAF Fellow in recognition of his leadership of this growing and successful project and its positive impact on turtles and fishing communities in Ghana. Flynn will travel to Boston in the coming year for his fellowship at the Aquarium.

a turtle flaps back into the sea
A sea turtle, one of hundreds safely released through Wildseas’ efforts, heads back to sea.

Learn more about Wildseas on its website  and Facebook page. And keep reading the Anderson Cabot Center blog to get the heartwarming story of how their efforts made a difference for one community and one turtle name Billy.