Photos: Leatherbacks vs. Logs in Gabon

Trevor Frost is a photographer, National Geographic Young Explorers Grantee, and Eddie Bauer Adventure Travel Guide. Hussain Aga Khan is a photographer, dedicated conservationist, and funds select conservation projects.

In May 2009 scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society reported in the Journal of Biological Conservation that Gabon is home to the largest nesting population of leatherback sea turtles in the world. They estimated that between 15,000 and 41,000 female turtles use Gabon’s beaches for nesting.

Four years later, in 2013, many of the same scientists published a new paper in the same journal, that reported approximately 17 percent of female turtles are blocked from nesting by stray logs that have washed up from the timber industry.

When I was in Gabon in 2012 I spent 2 weeks in Pongara National Park and saw firsthand how dangerous these logs were to female leatherbacks returning to the coast. I also noticed that the logs stopped the turtles from nesting farther up the beach, which exposed their nests to the tide and wave action. It is hard to believe something as simple as logs washing up on a beach could have such a detrimental effect on one of Earth’s most ancient and majestic creatures. To give you a better picture of how it happens, here are some photos of leatherbacks nesting on the beaches among the giant logs in November 2012.

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A female leatherback sea turtle digs a nest in the early morning on the beach in Pongara National Park, Gabon, Central Africa. The log at her head stopped her from placing the nest farther up the beach, which will expose her eggs to the tide and waves. Photo by Hussain Aga Khan
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One of many sections of beach littered with large logs in Pongara National Park, Gabon, Central Africa. Photo by Hussain Aga Khan
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The Atlantic Ocean will be home to the young turtles soon, but before the eggs hatch waves could destroy an entire clutch of would-be hatchlings. Photo by Hussain Aga Khan
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National Geographic Young Explorers Grantee Trevor Frost gets a close-up to help tell the story of the female leatherback sea turtles’ trials on the coast of Gabon. Photo by Hussain Aga Khan
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Large and graceful in the water, leatherbacks struggle to move on land and seemingly small obstacles can be insurmountable as they attempt to build nests and lay their eggs. Photo by Hussain Aga Khan

 

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Trevor is a photographer, National Geographic Young Explorer, and Eddie Bauer Adventure Travel Guide.