(Season 2017 - Maio Island, Cape Verde)
1. Learning how to conduct surveys in the marine environment. To reach this goal, we have followed Foundation Maio Biodiversity in their various research activities. Particularly, we conducted a cetacean survey where we had the chance to observe spotted dolphins but also a manta ray swimming around our boat. We have similarly surveyed Praia real for juvenile turtles as well as corals. The various techniques used provided the students with hands on training in a rough environment. Importantly, before and after each new technique and approach, we suggested different possible surveys and tested their feasibility. This offers a unique opportunity to have a real idea of the difficulty of surveying/sampling rare species in the open ocean. I also personally think that it prepares the students to the reality of conservation programmes for marine species.
2. Understand the complexity of conservation biology. By teaming up with the conservation organization of FMB, I have made the choice to entirely integrate in the world of practical conservation biology. In Cape Verde, turtles, amongst other species, are still illegally exploited. In order to cease the slaughter by poacher, several NGOs have developed large practical protection programmes but also, and mandatorily, education and community engagement programmes. One of those we developed with FMB is a homestay approach. All volunteers, guards and scientists working on turtles on the island of Maio stay with local families. The idea is to informally learn from each other and share experience. Furthermore, why would a man from a family kill a turtle when his wife is hosting turtle protectors? He would immediately cease her family business and compromise additional income. This homestay then provides a sustainable approach to conservation biology. Our students hence had the chance to spend 2 weeks with 3 different families. The emotional departure tells me that bounds have been created and that the homestay approach works.
The homestay is one of the many smart engaging actions developed by FMB. Our students had the chance to discover many and see the need not ignore engagement into conservation.
3. Be part of a large scale research programme. The last goal of our field course is to show, on site, the student the extent of one of the research programme the often hear of. This year, for the 8th consecutive year, we will be conducting various research activities on 8 islands of the Cape verde archipelago. This includes sampling a small skin tissue of all nesting turtles for genetic studies. To the best of my knowledge based on publication, this could already be one of the longest genetic survey published to date.
I have myself contributed to the discussion about the role of genetic studies in conservation biology by editing a special issue of Evolutionary Application and defining the expression “Adaptivepotential”. The case of sea turtles in Cape Verde is one of those where it led to important knowledge and consideration. Here is why:
Like for all conservation programmes, funding and support are limited. Hence we need to allocated resources wisely. In Cape Verde, turtles nest on all islands of the country, but the vast majority (>65%) nest on the island of Boavista in the East. If the nesting aggregation was composed of one unique genetic group of turtles, we could allocate all resources to protect Boavista to guarantee this large pool to survive. However, our genetic survey demonstrated that it is not the case. Different genetic groups exist and gene flow comes from the edge of the distribution towards the large nesting groups. This suggests that maintainingthe small nesting groups alive is crucial. In our approach, we have therefore make sure to not neglect the smaller groups on the West of the Archipelago. At this stage, time will tell us whether we did right, but I want to believe that consecutive high years of recruitment are not only chance.