Turtle-watching excursions are now a major tourist attraction on the island of Boa Vista. Last year, during the four months of the nesting season – between July and October – alone, some 29 million escudos in revenues were earned from the activity. A total of 5,240 tourists purchased the excursion package, which costs an average of 5,500 escudos, or 50 euros. But taxi drivers and the eight companies offering the excursions have failed to come to an understanding as to the price to charge.
This is the case despite the fact that ecotourism ethics stipulate that the turtle watching activities should generate benefits for local communities and ensure respect for the environment. The NGOs and businesses in the sector admit that these targets have not been met, claiming that legislation is still needed – legislation that is, according to the National Directorate of the Environment, is at an advanced stage of preparation.
The Boa Vista office of the Cape Verde Protected Areas System Consolidation Project last year proposed a fee of 300 escudos per tourist with the objective of giving some benefits back to the communities, especially in the northern zone of the island, which lies inside Boa Vista’s natural park.
The 5,240 tourists taxed at 300 escudos each (a figure supposed to be included in the final price) should have generated a total of 1,572,000 escudos, but so far only 718,000 have actually been able to be collected. The funds collected were invested, according to the 2014 nesting season report elaborated by the Boa Vista office of the Cape Verde Protected Areas System Consolidation Project, mostly in educational projects.
But not all contributed the fee, for various reasons. The allegedly illegal nature of the fee and lack of knowledge regarding the ends for which the contributions would be used were among the justifications given by businesses for not contributing or for paying amounts lower than those initially agreed to.
Another issue that has outraged businesses is that TUI, which is responsible for one-third of the excursions, refuses to collaborate. TUI purchases the turtle-watching packages from the company Naturália for 3,500 escudos, only to sell them to tourists at 8,600 escudos.
“It earned some 8 million escudos in the last season. In addition to not having paid the 300-escudo fee (which is not technically legal, given there is no legislation, but is seen as a compensatory measure), its uses its own vehicles, this reducing the socioeconomic benefits to society even further,” they complain.
The NGOs acknowledge that the conflicts surrounding the protection and financial exploitation of the turtles has had perverse effects – for example, it delays programs aimed at raising the awareness of civil society regarding the need to preserve the species.
Indeed, it is common to hear things like “some people are making money off of them. The only way I have of making any is by hunting them,” or “the only place I’ll conserve turtles is on my dinner plate,” clear signs of society’s outrage regarding the economic potential of the loggerhead turtle. In the meantime, mistrust has grown regarding NGOs, as has criticism regarding the way they work and finance their activities.
Prior to 2013, Naturália had a monopoly over the activity on the island of Boa Vista. Available data points to 1,411 tourists having gone on turtle-watching excursions in 2006, 672 in 2007, 1,241 in 2008, 1,563 in 2009, 2,634 in 2010 and 4,023 in 2011.
In 2012, Naturália took 3,353 tourists on turtle watches, but the same year saw new businesses begin operating excursions, taking some 2,334 tourists to see the sea turtles nest. Last year Naturália registered 3,014 tourists, against 2,230 by other businesses. 46 taxi drivers also independently took 837 tourists to see turtles.