The coast of Ghana is home to five endangered sea turtles, which are threatened by fishing nets and poachers who sell their meat and eggs. To help revive the turtle population, a group of young soccer players have taken on the task of guarding turtle nests and rescuing turtles caught by fishermen.
Empty shells of sea turtles can usually be found on the beach along the coastal community of Gomoa Fetteh in Ghana.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that six out of seven species of sea turtles are endangered.
Peter Kusaana of the Environmental Justice Foundation says that five of the species used to breed in Ghana, but their numbers have declined.
“Over the years, we have only now recorded about four or three of these turtle species breeding in Ghana, which means we have already lost two of these turtle species in Ghana,” he said.
Fishermen here say that about 50 turtles are killed each year along the eight-kilometer coastline, drowned in fishing nets or poached for meat and eggs.
Ama Akorfa, turtle processor, explains why locals poach turtles.
She says meat is a delicacy. She makes a stew from the insides of a turtle and sells the leftover meat.
Rescuing the remaining turtles is a team effort.
The Fetteh Youngsters Football Club has taken over the protection of the Turtles since 2019.
Team coach Daniel Kwesi Botchway says they are using community support to save endangered sea turtles.
“We needed to inform the public about this. And because the football team is for the community, I always say, “The Fetteh Youngsters are a community team, they are for the community.” And the head of the city, he’s a living patron of the club, so everyone in the community supports the Fetteh Youngsters. So we took it as a tool, as a tool to educate the community,” said Coach Botchway.
During nesting season, the football team patrols the beaches from dusk to dawn to ward off poachers and other predators that might harm the nesting turtles or their eggs.
Players also engage turtle meat vendors and the fishing community to educate them on the importance of protecting marine life.
Peter Kusaana of the Ghana Environmental Justice Foundation says their efforts are paying off.
He explains that the number of turtle poachers has dropped from 47 killed in the 2019-2020 nesting season to 26 in the latest, while more nests have been found along the coast.
“The number of reported nesting events, which means data points that have been captured by our patrols, has increased,” he said. “In 2019-2020, we had about 50 cases that were recorded in our datasheets. In 2020-2021, we have more than 145 of them.”
These are the team numbers that the Fetteh Youngsters football club is proud of.
But eliminating demand for endangered sea turtles is their main goal, and they’re playing overtime to score.