Wildlife conservation. Education. Sustainability. You could dedicate yourself to just one of these three causes and still be missing time in your calendar for extracurriculars. But, if you have ever visited Sal, you would soon realise that none of these issues can be challenged alone. This is where Project Biodiversity comes in. Founded as a non-profit in June 2015, Project Biodiversity was created to face the many threats that unsustainable development and people have on the Cabo Verdean wildlife and local ecosystems.
Project Biodiversity Director, Berta Renom & Finisterre Founder, Tom Kay.
Our recent mission to the Cape Verde Archipelago saw us join the young non-profit for an experiential workshop. Project Biodiversity aim to implement a wide range of environmental programmes that will contribute to the preservation and restoration of these threatened natural habitats.
Spending even a little bit of time with this small but dedicated team, we were able to observe first hand the special geographic nature of these islands and the important role they play in species biodiversity. From local breeding populations of seabirds, like Ospreys and Red-billed Tropicbirds to Turtle sanctuaries, these programmes assist greatly in improving the capacity and knowledge of the community to their local surroundings.
Sal Island welcomes part of the 3rd largest breeding population of Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the world, however, years of intense poaching and the recent loss of habitat from rapid development have left the population in danger of extinction. As a result of this, Project Biodiversity now set up a field camp every summer where volunteers from Cape Verde and around the world meet and work to protect these turtles and their nests.
Rapid development not only affects sea turtles, but the entire surrounding environment. The tourism industry is nowadays the main economic motor on the island, employing, directly or indirectly, most of the local population. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Sal every year causing an increase in construction, resource use and water. The surrounding environment is being exploited at an unsustainable pace and is causing the degradation of ecosystems, waste and the disruption of breeding species. Finding the balance between conservation and development is proving to be one of the hardest feats for organisations like Project Biodiversity.
With this development, more windows are opening every year, and with increasing international visibility comes new opportunities for Cabo Verde and for Sal. Tourism linked to surfing is already established but there is increasing demand for eco-tourism throughout the Islands.
Berta Renom, one of the founders of Project Biodiversity and the current director, was our point of contact on the ground. Hailing from the slightly more cosmopolitan surroundings of Barcelona, Berta has committed the last several years to building a sound understanding of the natural habitat in Cape Verde and the ever important role that the diverse wildlife plays. Small in stature, big in passion, Berta told us of the occasion she took it upon herself to swim across the turbulent waters between Sal and a neighbouring rocky outcrop simply to document the population of a local nesting bird. No mean feat, commitment is a clear pre-requisite to that of a PB crew member.
While exploring the surroundings of Monte Leão, a charismatic hill located on the central-west coast of the island, we were fortunate enough to witness several Red-billed Tropicbirds perform what Berta described as a dance in the sky. With loud calls and close approaches that even Berta stated were rarely seen, we were able to see first hand their majesty and finesse as if previously agreed with these graceful birds.
The Cabo Verde archipelago represents an oasis in the middle of the ocean for many migratory species. During the boreal winter (in the northern hemisphere) many species who can’t take the cold of Europe escape to warmer temperatures in southern latitudes. Some examples are the Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstone, Spoonbills and Cream-coloured Courser. Red-billed Tropicbirds (Phaethon aethereus) use the cliffs of Cabo Verde to lay and incubate a single egg after spending the rest of the year in the high seas. Despite not being globally considered as endangered, they still face several threats such as predation from introduced animals (eg. Feral cats) and harvesting – they are now considered a high conservation priority. Cabo Verde, together with the Galapagos, holds key populations of Red-billed Tropicbirds. In total you can find around 71 different species of migratory birds on the archipelago.
Only able to spend a short while with Berta, who had been working single handedly during the volunteer off-season, we sought to understand not only what species this unique set of islands played host to, but also the daily struggles of a country that lies somewhere between the luxury villa resorts and the 3rd world realities prevalent in many dwellings throughout the island chain.
Berta first met us at a roadside cafe on the outskirts of Santa Maria. Parking up her bike; her only form of transport on the 83 square mile island and following an introduction to the team she quickly hopped in the truck to take us away from the dusty metropolis. Keen to hear more about Project Biodiversity, Berta took no time in catching us up on the recent achievements and ongoing battles of this budding organization, a strong message that the dedication of few has the ability to counter the impact of many.
Learn more about Project Biodiversity here