News from Cape Verde, Angola & Mozambique

Jacquie Cozens

Hello Jacquie, could you please tell the readers of Atlantico Weekly who you are? My name is Jacquie Cozens, one of the founding members of  the Capeverdean non profit organization Associação dos Amigos das Tartarugas e do Meio Ambiente, better known as SOS Tartarugas. I have a slightly unusual background as my father is British but my mother is Chinese and I was brought up in the Middle East! I have been lucky enough to have traveled to and lived in many countries before coming to Cape Verde in 2007. I have a degree in business and marketing and for the first part of my career I lived in London, working for several well-known marketing agencies.  Following this I became a self employed consultant advising clients on marketing and business development and working with small and medium business start-ups. I was also employed in a training capacity, teaching business skills on subjects such as sales and negotiation techniques and effective presentations. When I was young I lived on a small island and developed a life long interest in nature and, in particular, marine life. I learned to dive while I was a teenager and made short films as a hobby. I wanted to work at this professionally, so I completed a masters degree in Documentary Film production and began a second career in wildlife film-making. Since then I have made several underwater documentaries that have been shown on the Discovery Channel, BBC & other European television channels. The best known of my films is about a large and some would say, aggressive squid – the Humboldt – which can reach 3m in length and has been known to attack humans! Several of my films have won awards but I am most interested in producing campaigning or educational films that can have an impact on how people see marine life and that can help to engage them in conservation activities. I am also a dive instructor and immediately before coming to Cape Verde in 2007, I co-owned a dive centre on the west coast of Ireland. I also write occasionally for travel and dive magazines. At the moment I work full time for SOS Tartarugas, but one day I hope to hand the association over to a Capeverdean team and get back to film-making.

Could you tell us more about the activites of SOS Tartarugas in Cape Verde? The primary objective of SOS Tartarugas is to help to preserve Cape Verde’s natural heritage, particularly turtles, but we are also involved in other environmental issues. The aim of our annual campaign is to directly protect turtles through night time patrols and to stimulate conservation activities in the community through our education and outreach programs. At the moment the most critical issue on Sal is the unsympathetic development of the coastline. It is part of our job to try to persuade developers and operators that simple solutions -such as shading lights, so they point inland – will help to ensure the turtles continue to nest on all the beaches. This problem necessitates the relocation of all the nests on the west coast and some from the east coast to a place where they can develop naturally but where they are protected from light pollution, destruction by vehicles and predation by dogs. Contrary to popular myth we do not remove eggs from Cape Verde to be sold in Europe! Research is very important and we undertake many scientific studies as well as collaborating with universities both here and overseas. The aim is to increase the knowledge about the population of turtles here in order to better protect them. Outreach and educational activities is also an area that all our staff and volunteers are involved in – and this ranges from open forums and film shows to our school program. Last year children learned about turtles, recycling and other topics in class, recorded messages for the radio and at the end of the summer 150 children made their own turtle costumes and participated in a Turtle Parade through the streets of Santa Maria. We are also involved in ecotourism activities which are a very important source of funding since we receive no financial assistance from the government. Tourism activities pay for 80% of our annual campaign and the remainder is raised through international grants. Although we are based on Sal we support community and government turtle conservation programs in six other islands. We feel it is important to support these projects since they do not have access to raising funds through tourism. Without the revenue from turtle walks it would be impossible to provide protection for the turtles and since we are a non-profit association, all the profit goes straight back into our project. We also support community development and make donations to, or sponsor, other charitable organizations on Sal such as children’s charities or community cooperatives and fishermen’s associations. As we become more established I would like to start similar projects to protect other species, especially sharks, which we see as particularly vulnerable due to a lack of understanding of their importance in the eco-system as well as the opening up of Cape Verde’s fishing grounds which has resulted in finning activities amongst foreign fleets (finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins, after which the rest of the shark body is thrown back into the ocean. These sharks then die from their injuries, suffocation, or are eaten because they are unable to move normally – AW).

Why did you become an active defender of Cape Verde’s wildlife? I came here to research a film about Cape Verde’s marine life. The area is relatively under filmed and I saw huge scope for a great film not only about the sea but also about the culture. I became interested in the area after I was involved in satellite tagging a leatherback turtle in Ireland that made its way here after being released. I wanted to develop an idea based on the migration routes not just of whales, turtles and other marine life, but also of people. Unfortunately during our research, my partner Neal Clayton and I only ever saw dead turtles. Every day we walked on the beach on the east coast of Sal (Costa Fragata) and would see two or three freshly butchered turtles. On Serra Negra one day we found nine that had been killed the night before. The final straw was on Algodoeiro when a turtle was butchered in front of us while she was still alive. After this we realized that there was an urgent need for a campaign of protection before it was too late. Originally I had in mind a small volunteer group that would patrol now and again to deter hunting, but since that time and in cooperation with the Camara Municipal do Sal, the program has grown quite large and includes not only patrols, but educational and community activities as well.

Was it easy to start up with your organization in Cape Verde? The association was fortunate to have a founding member who understood the system and was also very well connected. Consequently the association was legalized very quickly and although there seemed to be quite a lot of paperwork, we were up and running within four or five months. The Camara Municipal do Sal already ran a protection program using soldiers and guards on the beach and we were pleased to become their partner in this, as it made operational aspects of our work much easier to organize. In hindsight I am amazed how fast we got to work! It was definitely something that was needed and we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. We knew, however, that funding from the government was unlikely and consequently we had to start applying for grants internationally in order to fund our initial year’s budget of €50,000. At that time we did not realize that tourists would be interested enough to make generous donations during their holiday. Since that first year our budget has grown considerably and we began to receive income from organizing turtle walks and by accepting volunteers from overseas who pay to come and experience working with turtles. A good mix of cultures and experiences makes the project much more interesting for all. In theory, since Cape Verde has signed many international protocols to protect turtles, a realistic budget should be allocated by the government to do this, but I do understand that it is quite low on the priority list. That is why a private/public partnership between NGOs and the government is the best model to deliver protection. I hope that one day environmental issues will receive better funding from the central government. It is very difficult to continually search for finance when there is so much competition for international grants and that is why we need to find ways to expand what we can offer in terms of sales or excursions to help keep the association’s finances healthy.

An administrative issue that we face each year is trying to get visas for ourselves and for our international volunteers. The rules regarding residency and visas need to be much clearer and applied with consistency on all the islands. With the exception of the embassy in the US, volunteers coming here for more than a month cannot be issued with a visa for the length of their stay (4-7 months) even though their only purpose is to work for the benefit of Cape Verde. The consulates state that visas can be renewed at the police station on Sal, but the theory is not the reality! In four years we have not succeeded in renewing one single visa because of the time and effort it takes! It is simpler to pay the fine at the airport on the way out. In fact it is easier to fly to Praia and renew our visas each year rather than attempt to process them on Sal.

One of the biggest frustrations is when I hear strange stories about SOS Tartarugas even though we try hard to communicate the purpose and scope of our work. I was doing a radio interview once when a caller phoned to say that he believed we patrolled the beach so that we could keep the turtle meat for ourselves and that the fridge in Turtle House was full of turtle meat! There is also much confusion and misunderstanding about non-profits here in Cape Verde. Non-profits need to operate efficiently in the same way as every commercial business in order to fulfill their purpose. They need to have objectives, financial targets, good management structure, staff policies and so on. They also need to have some permanent paid staff, although salaries may be much lower than in a commercial enterprise. Just like our counterparts in the Camara Municipal or Department of Environment our members of staff have to be paid to ensure continuity and good management. All Cape Verde staff receive a competitive salary and we also pay small stipends to international volunteers who have good experience and who commit to working for the entire season. Most of the volunteers are dedicated biologists who give up a lot to come here and I believe that environmental work should be rewarded just like any other job. We have worked hard to try to establish the association as professional and effective and I am happy that our relationships with local and national government departments, the police, maritime police, the armed forces and the national scientific institutes operate in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect.  I hope that our partners feel the same way!

Could you name one of your highlights or successes? I look back on our first season (2008) here with awe – it was successful beyond our wildest dreams, with a dramatic reduction in the number of turtles killed on the southern beaches of Sal. We have gone from having some beaches such as Serra Negra with almost 100% mortality to zero turtles killed. It is amazing to me that many people who have volunteered in 2010 and 2011 did not see a dead turtle, whereas for us in the beginning it used to be a nightly occurrence. I consider every night we do not get woken up because a turtle is being killed somewhere on Sal a big success! I also consider the phone call I receive each morning that tells me all our patrollers are back home safe and sound a big success. Now our outreach work is beginning to have an effect it also makes me very proud when any Capeverdean wishes to help us or congratulates us on our work. In 2011 we only recorded two turtles killed on our patrolled beaches, which is astonishing but still not good enough! Every turtle killed means something to me and I will always be aiming for zero turtles killed on Sal. The northern beaches are still problematic as they are harder to patrol and we clearly have a long way to go, in terms of direct protection and most particularly with convincing people to protect their country’s natural heritage.

What was the biggest problem you encountered in Cape Verde? I think that there are three serious issues that we have to deal with. The first is that although Cape Verde has laws in place to protect turtles and the environment these laws are rarely enforced. Developers and operators are allowed to flout regulations regarding construction work and light pollution and people who kill turtles may be arrested but rarely sentenced. In my opinion, this country should be proud of being the only western African nation with a National Plan for the Protection of Marine Turtles. Cape Verde can lead the way, as they do in so many other ways, towards proper protection and enforcement of the law. We also soon came to understand that it is a difficult job to communicate the need to protect endangered species. Even after four years there is a great deal or misunderstanding and misinformation, not just about the turtles, but about the objectives and motivation of our association. It is a major challenge to convince not just the population of the need for this project, but also to alter the mindset of politicians, developers and many European residents. Finally, we continually struggle to find Cape Verde nationals who wish to work in the project. Each year we try to find solutions for this and in 2011 we held forums in the four main towns on Sal for people to give us their views on how the project should be run – no one came in Palmeira or Espargos and only a few in Santa Maria. Pedra de Lume was the best attended and this is reflected in the fact that the Fishermen’s Association cooperate with us to monitor their own beaches. This year we are undertaking a study to question people about their views on why people here do not engage in turtle conservation. Sadly the participation in answering the questions is extremely low, with only 4 out of 50 Capeverdeans completing the short online questionnaire. On other islands this is not the case and with the exception of Boa Vista, projects on all the other islands have come from within the communities. We definitely need more permanent and temporary Capeverdean staff and finding ways to engage people in these activities is something that is constantly on my mind. It seems sad to me that foreigners will travel thousands of miles, spend a lot of money and dedicate themselves tirelessly to protect turtles for free, but we struggle to find more than a few nationals a year who want to be paid for performing the same tasks!

What do you recommend to other entrepreneurs when setting up a business, profit or non-profit, in Cape Verde?  In my opinion people can be dazzled by the beaches and great weather and feel a little bit like they are on holiday – yet the same business rules apply here as in any other country. You need to research the market for your business and preferably start something that you have some experience or expertise in. You need a solid business plan, with sufficient funds to see you through lean times and you need to have a good understanding of how the legal and administrative system works here. I know a few people that have struggled to get their business started, so I suppose it would be a good idea to get expert advice to help you through the red tape and language barrier. Also be prepared for things to take longer, much longer than you anticipated!  We feel sad when we see people come here after giving up everything at home for a dream of a sunnier, easier life and then struggle for years before finally giving up. I think that the qualities that most helped us to get SOS Tartarugas going and keep it going is a mixture of determination, stubbornness and patience!  As we say in the UK you need “sheer bloody mindedness”!

Thank you, Jacquie! How can readers of Atlantico Weekly reach you? I am always interested in hearing people’s opinions about our project, please email me at if you have any questions or comments. Alternatively you can leave a comment or question on our Facebook page or blog.

May 14th 2012. All rights reserved by Atlantico Weekly.