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Talking about Turtles

by Charlie Gough, Marine Research Coordinator, Madagascar

As the afternoon draws near, a crowd gathers in the centre of the small market town of Maintirano in western Madagascar. Men, women and children find their perches out of the strong rays of the afternoon sun, they know that Blue Ventures will shortly be arriving but this is the first time anyone has done anything like this in Maintirano. They are not completely sure what to expect and so as the crowd expands, the excitement is heightened and the local DJ cranks up the music – working the crowd into a sea of excited faces.

Getting ready for the 'holding breath' game

A group of twelve local girls and boys arrive all clad in brightly coloured t-shirts emblazoned with the immortal words “Enteo ty afara…..” meaning ‘to look behind you’, urging people not only to look at the slogan on the back of the t-shirt “Fano Lany, Vezo Manegny” (When the turtles run out the Vezo will regret), but also to look to their past to help them understand how to manage these resources for their future. Following them is the now famous Blue Ventures dancing turtle, and the star of today’s show, Thomas. Once a Vezo fisherman himself Thomas has switched his net and spear for a microphone and his charismatic persona and knowledge of Vezo fishing tradition flow through the microphone to the waiting crowd. The opening speeches are made by local authorities such as Direction Regionale des Eaux et Foret (DREF) and a special guest appearance by Blue Ventures’ Research Director Dr Alasdair Harris impressing the crowd with his speech in Malagasy.

Its exciting to meet the BV dancing turtle - a local celebrity

Once the formalities are over the games can begin and Thomas and the radio DJ from Radio Melaky waste no time in getting the crowd worked up into a frenzy with the dancing turtle. Games today include bobbing for tomatoes in a bucket, without hands, showing children and adults alike how difficult it is for a turtle to grab a slippery jellyfish snack from the waters of the ocean. Also holding their breath with their head in a bucket with Thomas explaining to the crowd that an adult turtle could hold its breath underwater for up to eight hours!

Over the past week Thomas’ voice has been racing over the radio waves explaining many things about turtle biology and ecology, now is the chance for everyone that has been listening to the radio show to test their knowledge and grab themselves the prize … an “enteo ty afara” tshirt!

The BV turtle gets ready to rouse the people

The games continue with water splashing over the crowd in the cheap seats at the front, but it can’t dampen anyone’s spirits, they are all still clamouring to be chosen to answer a question or have their chance in one of the games.

Finally as the day darkens into night and the games come to an end, the team hoists the projection screen into place and Thomas once again explains and animates the life history of the turtle. At the end of the presentation a film about the voyage of a turtle across the open ocean returning to its nesting beaches is shown with Thomas’ voice explaining the images that are being projected onto the sail. The crowd has now grown to around 500 people but they are no longer clamouring at the front of the stage, but sitting either side of the screen, the underwater world lulling them into silence as they watch the turtle glide through the blue. They stare open-mouthed as the turtle crawls onto the beach to lay its eggs at the end of an epic journey.

The film comes to a close and the crowd heads off to their beds with the children dreaming of turtles and one day being up there on the stage themselves.

Charlotte Gough

About Charlotte Gough

Charlie is our monitoring and evaluation coordinator. She has led numerous marine research expeditions scuba diving along thousands of kilometres of Madagascar's coastline, and is currently working on number-crunching all of our scientific data so that we can measure and communicate our impact!