In The News
Below is a selection of TV, newspaper and magazine articles about Explore Cape Verde
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How Cape Verde’s sustainable tourism push is saving loggerhead turtles on Sal by The Independent (inews.co.uk)
It's best known as a package destination, but the Cape Verde archipelago is embracing responsible tourism.
It is pitch black and a group of us are huddled together on a windy beach on the island of Sal in the Cape Verde archipelago, as marine biologist Jonathan Jones prepares us for our night-time excursion. As our eyes adjust to the darkness, we head to the shoreline and make our way along it, stopping every so often to analyse tracks in the wet sand.
Soon, Jones brings us to an abrupt halt and darts off to look at what appears to be a large rock. Excitedly he ushers us over and we stealthily make our way towards the whole reason for this trip: a sea turtle, busily excavating a pit. We crouch behind it to watch as it uses its powerful legs to swish away at the sand and create a deep nest. Finally satisfied with the size of the hollow, it starts contracting, popping out egg after egg – I stop counting after 50.
As it starts camouflaging the nest with sand, Jones’s attention is suddenly caught by two black shapes moving up the beach towards us. One turns out to be a red herring: a pot washed up by the strong waves. The other, though, is an even bigger turtle. And it’s moving fast.
On Jones’s orders, we sit very still. We hold our breath as the creature tries to create a path through our group, pushing against one person and then another with great determination. Finally deciding that we are too large to bulldoze out of its way, it backs up, stops a metre away and settles in to lay its eggs.
An uphill battle
Lying 350 miles off the coast of Senegal, Cape Verde is home to the world’s third-largest population of loggerhead sea turtles, an endangered species. Poaching is a big problem here; turtles are regularly dragged off the beach and their freshly laid eggs stolen. The loss of habitat, the number of stray dogs and the increase in light pollution are also factors. But thanks to projects such as Jones’s Explore Cape Verde, the number of sea turtles on the islands is on the rise.
Our visit is not only a fun excursion for tourists. Before we leave the beach, Jones marks the location of tonight’s nests, so volunteers will be able to retrieve the eggs and keep them safe in a hatchery.
The next day, we visit a large hatchery in the candy-coloured town of Santa Maria to see the non-profit organisation Project Biodiversity at work. The organisation is responsible for the Sea Turtle Conservation Campaign in Sal and it is a busy time for the team, as it is nearing the end of the nesting season, which runs between June and October. Beside each of the 1,035 nests in the hatchery is a sign noting how many eggs are buried there.
The volunteers are on their hands and knees, scooping away the sand to release any hatchlings that have not yet made it to the surface, ready for them to be released on the beach when night falls. The baby turtles are tiny, smaller than the palm of my hand, and vulnerable, too – it’s no surprise to learn that only one in 1,000 survives to maturity. Clearly I’m not the only one besotted with these creatures – next to many of the nests are more signs explaining that they have been adopted by holidaymakers.
All kinds of marine life
Seeing the turtles is one of several marine encounters on Cape Verde. I join a group on a half-day sailing trip, hoping to see the dolphins and humpback whales that are regularly spotted around the archipelago. We’re out of luck on that front but follow a group of flying fish leaping above the waves. We also drop anchor for a snorkel in the brilliant blue waters.
Another day, we join Jordi Lopez, an Explore Cape Verde marine biologist, who takes us to the shallow waters off Shark Bay where inquisitive young lemon sharks (one of 13 shark species found in the area) swim around our feet, their yellow and green bodies a perfect camouflage against the reef. In the bay’s deeper water we see the fins of their adult compatriots, gliding back and forth. Cape Verde is known for its marine life, not least because its dry, lunar-like landscape isn’t the most hospitable (I see only a smattering of skinny goats and cows during my week on Sal).
But that landscape is in itself extraordinary. At the village of Pedra de Lume we walk through a short tunnel to find ourselves inside an extinct volcanic crater, where salt ponds pool up from the depths below. We jump in – the water has 27 times more salt than sea water, which gives swimmers the same kind of buoyancy you get in the Dead Sea.
Making tourism sustainable is a priority for Cape Verde. Having only gained independence from Portugal in 1975, it is trying to balance its rapid growth in visitors while maintaining a fragile environment. Even major tour operators are weighing in – the Tui Care Foundation sponsors Project Biodiversity as well as running its own “Clean and Green” programme, which works with local organisations to develop more sustainable tourism.
And tourists have to play their part, too – right down to changing their way of thinking about the animals. No stamping around hatching spots on beaches, and no touching the sharks.
“We try to change people’s minds,” says Lopez. “You need to know how to respect the animals.”
How to get there
Tui flies direct to Sal from Gatwick, Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham from £310 return. A seven-night trip to the five-star Tui Sensimar Cabo Verde Resort starts from £1,258pp, all-inclusive, including flights and transfers. tui.co.uk
When to go
It’s sunny year-round. The turtle-nesting season runs between June and October, and peak season for migrating humpback whales is March and April, with sightings a month either side. The windy season is from mid-December to mid-June, making Sal popular with kitesurfers.
by The Independent
The Telegraph Newspaper
Can 'the new Canaries' win the fight against overtourism by The Telegraph (telegraph.co.uk)
Cape Verde | Up close and personal with a loggerhead turtle
All holidays arguably fit one of two moulds: those that feed the soul, or those that gratify the senses. From worthy tours of cultural ruins to week-long benders on the costas, they are extensions of ourselves.
Both are enormously enjoyable, but does either have any real benefit for the wider world, beyond expanding either our minds or our waistlines?
Certainly, the travel industry keeps a great many people in work. But in the age of mass tourism, there is a more corrosive side to it. From the very real issue of CO2 emissions – from planes and other modes of transport, hotel heating, air conditioning, food production and waste – to the more recent hot button of “overtourism”, holidays are loaded with moral concerns.
It is easy to dismiss the residents of Barcelona or Palma, overrun by hordes of visitors, as ungrateful recipients of a booming tourism economy, but at least they prompt the question anew: is travel sustainable?
Tui, Britain’s largest tour operator, is working hard to convince us that it is. The Tui Care Foundation, its charitable arm, supports 38 projects in 25 destinations worldwide.
The country's challenge is to make tourists an asset instead of a drain on resources
Recent successes have included a tourism education programme for 150 young people in the Dominican Republic, a scheme to help small producers in Crete sell products to hoteliers, and training for young women in Morocco to lead cycling excursions for tourists.
Cape Verde is a more recent focus of attention. Described as “the new Canaries”, this Atlantic archipelago of 10 volcanic islands 400 miles off Senegal has been independent from Portugal since 1975 and is at heart African.
It also has economic, social and environmental problems: jobs are scarce, housing is in short supply, waste management is frustrated by a lack of recycling facilities, and prices are high as food has to be imported and all water is desalinated.
The imbalance in trade is made more acute by the fact there is little to export, apart from tuna. Into this scenario step half a million tourists a year, drawn in by unspoilt sandy beaches and year-round sun – the number is forecast to grow to 700,000 by 2025.
Cape Verde’s challenge is to make them an asset instead of a drain on resources – not easy when visitors consume five times more water than locals and account for 51 per cent of the country’s energy use.
In 2013, the Tui Care Foundation teamed up with another charity, the Travel Foundation, to set up a “destination council” for the islands. Funded by both charities together with private partners, one of its early successes was the Greener Hotels initiative: a plan to monitor and improve energy, waste and water management in the archipelago. Hotels on Sal and Boa Vista – the most developed islands – account for 42 per cent of the total volume of waste sent to landfill. So far, 16 out of a target of 20 hotels have signed up. Quick wins include ditching plastic straws and installing low-energy light bulbs and low-flow shower heads; the long-term plan is to reduce the volume of waste going to landfill by 20 per cent.
Up close and personal with a loggerhead turtle
Marine biologist Jonathan Jones is an unlikely specimen in these parts. Originally from Swansea, he has lived on Sal since 2008. A love of turtles brought him to the island; a young family, born and raised on Sal, has kept him there.
His company, Explore Cape Verde, was among the first to sign up to the island’s code of conduct for guides, and donates a percentage of its profits to Project Biodiversity – a total of €10,000 (£8,600) to date. Jonathan has only good things to say about the charity. “I don’t know why Tui doesn’t shout about it a bit louder,” he said.
From July to October, when loggerheads crawl on to the beach at night to lay their eggs, sightings on his tours are all but guaranteed, but I was sceptical. No torches are allowed, and we had only dim red lights to guide us; but this did allow for a stunning view of the sky. Constellations appeared differently this close to the equator, but the Milky Way’s belt was tantalisingly clear – Mars, Saturn and Jupiter all resplendent.
To my surprise, a prehistoric shape shuffled into view. We spotted one, then two, then three loggerheads inching up the beach. One was huge – at least 3ft from top to tail – and headed straight for me. “Stay absolutely still,” said Jonathan. “She’ll think you’re a rock.”
Holding my breath as she nudged me out of the way, her head the size of a small rugby ball, I was stunned into silence. The moment lasted about 20 seconds and was genuinely thrilling.
Who knows where a close encounter like this might take a visiting tourist? “It was a visit to Windsor Safari Park that led to me being a marine biologist,” said Jonathan – and eventually to Cape Verde. Others will hopefully follow – responsibly – in his footsteps.
But it is in the training of local people that the project is most likely to make a lasting difference. Tourist excursions support about 1,700 jobs on Sal and Boa Vista, with 40 per cent of visitors taking at least one tour during their stay.
To date, the destination council has provided training and certification for 75 guides offering nature-based tours. Trainees are typically young men who might have been working as beach vendors, or selling tours without accreditation. Training delivers a code of conduct that can in turn help protect the islands’ wildlife habitats.
After Florida and Oman, Cape Verde is the world’s third-largest nesting site for loggerhead turtles, but also one of the most at risk. Poaching has been illegal there since January last year, but with turtle meat fetching up to £7/lb, it is understandably hard to stop.
This is the goal of Project Biodiversity, another local charity supported by the care foundation, which protects vulnerable nesting sites and releases hatchlings into the ocean. Thanks to guided nightly tours, poaching is down as much as 90 per cent on some beaches – no mean feat when the profit from a loggerhead could feed a family for six weeks.
A visit to the Ponta Preta hatchery, on the beach in Santa Maria, confirms the enthusiasm visitors and volunteers have for the project. On the night I was there (see box below), a moonlit guided walk provided a chance encounter with one of these endearing creatures.
Our final stop in Santa Maria gave even more cause for optimism. There, Castlelos do Sal is an after-school club Tui also helps to fund. It provides about 70 children a day with a hot meal, plus a chance to play or do homework under supervision.
Education is a great source of local pride: primary schools (but not secondary) are free, the literacy rate is 89 per cent and there are seven universities across the 10 islands – but many children still miss out. With few social services available, an after-school club is a lifeline for working parents.
The brightly painted building is ramshackle but clean, and on our afternoon visit there were two classrooms full of children. A long shelf packed with toothbrushes and donated toothpaste hinted at the benefit of being next door to a popular resort – as did the plentiful supply of pens, many of which came from hotel guests.
Travelling responsibly means allowing the real world to intrude on your holiday – arguably the very opposite of what a holiday should be.
But if you choose Cape Verde this year, instead of those crowded Med hotspots, you could be making a positive difference somewhere that needs it. The beaches are indeed magnificent, and the people welcoming. Bringing some school supplies – and taking some plastic home – really will help everyone.
by The Telegraph