Four species of sea turtles nest along the 800 km of Gabon’s coastline. All four are IUCN redlisted: the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is Critically Endangered, the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is Endangered, and the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) are Vulnerable. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Partenariat pour les Tortues Marines du Gabon (Gabon Sea Turtle Partnership) of which WCS is a member, in 2011 all four were declared fully protected by the Gabonese government.
Although marine turtle habitat is distributed all along the coast, surveys conducted for several years by WCS and its partners has identified areas of high conservation concern, such as high-density nesting beaches and important foraging and developmental areas. In fact, Gabon hosts the world's largest nesting population of leatherback turtles, as well as a regionally important population of nesting olive ridleys. The most important beaches in Gabon are found in Mayumba National Park in southern Gabon near the Republic of Congo (the highest leatherback nesting density in Africa), and in Pongara National Park near the capital city of Libreville. However, we have confirmed that nesting occurs throughout the coastline, including the beaches near Gamba, Loango National Park, and the beaches around the Ogooué Delta south of Port Gentil. At the end of the nesting season, leatherbackstravel thousands of kilometres to foraging grounds which may be found in South Africa, South America or the central Atlantic Ocean.
In addition to important terrestrial habitats along the coast, Gabon also hosts marine habitats occupied by sea turtle populations throughout the year as foraging, mating and migratory areas. In particular, Corisco Bay, on Gabon’s northern coast bordering with Equatorial Guinea, is considered an important adult and juvenile foraging ground for green turtles and hawksbills. Green turtles and hawksbills are also present near-shore in shallow rocky areas throughout Gabon’s coastline where individuals, often originating at rookeries thousands of kilometres away, form mixed feeding aggregates. Olive ridleys may also feed in Gabon’s highly productive offshore waters throughout the year, heavily overlapping with Gabon’s commercial fisheries.
Despite their seeming abundance, sea turtles are threatened by a wide range of problems, including; incidental capture by commercial and artisanal fisheries, pollution from offshore oil rigs, plastics pollution in the sea and on beaches, light pollution disrupting nesting and hatching, drift logs on the beaches that trap or hinder females and hatchlings, poaching of nests, rising sea levels and coastal erosion.
Much of WCS’ sea turtle work in Gabon has been through the Partenariat pour les Tortues Marines du Gabon, composed of NGOs and government partners. In particular, WCS focuses on assessing population status and trends, combating threats, and improving our knowledge of sea turtle interactions with and vulnerability to those threats, in order to refine conservation strategies and management priorities.