GOMOA, GHANA - The coast of Ghana is home to five of the world's endangered sea turtles, which are threatened by fishing nets and poachers who sell their meat and eggs. To help revive the turtle populations, a group of young footballers have taken it upon themselves to guard turtle nests and rescue turtles captured by fishermen.
Empty sea turtle shells are commonly found on the beach along Ghana's coastal Gomoa Fetteh community.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says six out of the seven species of sea turtles are endangered.
Peter Kusaana of the Environmental Justice Foundation says five of those species used to nest in Ghana, but the numbers have reduced.
"Over the years, we are only now recording about four or three of these species nesting in Ghana, meaning that we have already lost two of these turtle species in Ghana,' he said.
Fishermen here say about 50 turtles are killed every year along the eight-kilometer shoreline, drowned in fishing nets or poached for their meat and eggs.
Ama Akorfa, a turtle processor, explains why the locals poach turtles.
She says the meat is a delicacy. She makes stew with the turtle's entrails and sells the remaining meat.
Saving the remaining turtles is a team effort.
The Fetteh Youngsters Football Club since 2019 has taken it upon themselves to protect the turtles.
The team's coach, Daniel Kwesi Botchwey, says they leverage the community's support for the team to help save the endangered sea turtles.
"There has been the need for us to educate the community about it. And since the football team is for the community, because I always say, 'Fetteh Youngsters is a community-based team, it is for the community.' And the chief of the town, he is the live patron of the club, so everyone in the community supports Fetteh Youngsters. So, we have taken it as a means, as a tool, to educate the community," said coach Botchwey.
During nesting season, the football team patrols the beaches from dusk until dawn to ward off poachers and other predators that would harm nesting turtles or their eggs.
The players also engage the turtle meat sellers and fishing community to educate them on the importance of protecting marine life.
Peter Kusaana of Ghana's Environmental Justice Foundation says their efforts are paying off.
He explains that turtle poaching reduced from 47 killed in the 2019-2020 nesting season to 26 in the last one, while more nests have been found along the coast.
"The number of nesting events recorded, meaning that the data points that have been captured by our patrollers, has increased,' he said. 'In 2019-2020, we had around 50 cases that were recorded in our data sheets. In 2020-2021, we have over 145."
They're team numbers that the Fetteh Youngsters Football Club is proud of.
But eliminating the demand for endangered sea turtles - that's their top goal, and one they're playing overtime to score.