Changing Planet

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.

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
One of many sections of beach littered with large logs in Pongara National Park, Gabon, Central Africa. Photo by Hussain Aga Khan
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
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
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


 More Leatherback Sea Turtle Facts and Photos


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

    This is shocking. What can be done to stop this cruel practice. Can one take it up with the environmentalist group?

  • Slim

    Great story. Mr. Aga Khan’s photos are the best kind of activitst photogrpahy. I would imagine that someone in Gabon — perhaps the timber industry itself — could remove the logs and make a profit while doing it. That would be an environmental win-win.

  • Grylover

    I agree with Slim, it seems it is the logging company’s fault and they should clean it up ASAP and keep it cclear of logs. Every log that floats away costs them money and it makes them cut more to replace them. Pressure needs to be put on them to take care of it.

  • Sultanali G Lalani

    WeAre indeed trustees for future generations to come and our solemn responsibility to conserve the ecology and its creatures from witting and unwitting damage or destruction. How do the logs come on this beach? Address the problem and fix it! How? Some volunteers at the time of breeding season to manueveur the logs from safe breeding paths/spots.

  • Debbie Rupert

    Will we destroy our environment and our wildlife? Do we think we can abuse our planet as we continue to do and expect to have it sustain us in the years to come? Please watch this and pass it on. Help us help ourselves
    Clean the rivers, replant the forests,restore the earth

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