The hunter turned conservationist – protecting sea turtles in The Gambia, West Africa

Image © Jason Florio – Kartong, The Republic of the Gambia, West Africa


Over the weekend, we made our way down to Kartong – the last village before the border of the Casamance – Southern Senegal, to stay with old friends, Maurice and Geri, at their eco lodge, Sandele. The main purpose of our visit was to interview LJ – an ex- local bush meat hunter, who had a ‘come to conservation‘ moment earlier this year.

Image © Jason Florio – some of the sea turtles we eventually released into the Atlantic Ocean, at Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa


LJ now volunteers full time to protect the fragile turtle population and helps to sensitize his fellow villages not to slaughter turtles for meat and poach their eggs. It’s a tough task, considering that there is precious food money to be made from the meat of the majestic fully grown reptiles – they can live to be 80+ years! LJ knows… being one of those people who thought little of wiping out mature turtles with a sharp knife, or raiding nests for eggs to sell or make omelets from, for his family.


HJF with one of the turtles we helped to release – image © Jason Florio
Watch your step, Jason! Releasing the turtles (look closely – those tiny black spots are alive), Kartong, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio


We had the honor of releasing 20 Leather Back turtles… an incredible experience, as we watched the tiny reptiles hurtle innately, over the sand, towards the gargantuan Atlantic Ocean. We were awestruck yet fearful… these are ‘lucky’ ones, to have survived the land predators (from hunters, to wild dogs, crabs, birds, and red ants, raiding the pre-hatched eggs), but the baby turtles have many more marine predators awaiting them. Their overall survival rate to maturity is slim.

Image © Jason Florio – Kartong, The Republic of the Gambia, West Africa


LJ stood nearby, with a look of paternal proudness and more than a little trepidation. However, he hopes that in fifteen years time, he will be on the same stretch of beach to protect at least one of the female turtles, from this particular hatching, as she returns inherently to the place of her birth, to lay her eggs deep the sand, before heading right back out to sea once again.

We’ll be following closely the progress of LJ – a truly inspiring and dedicated man you will ever hope to meet – and the turtle conservation project, in Kartong, and surrounding coastal area. So, please do check in again (or you can subscribe to updates – simply add your email address in the left hand column).  And, if you would like to find out more about how to support the conservation of the turtles – this is a volunteer position for LJ, so we know that any help would be much appreciated –  please contact: 

The Florios – Helen & Jason

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Good luck, little turtle, we hope you make it! © Jason Florio

Published by Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

Award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and writer, Jason Florio (, and photographer, producer, videographer and writer, Helen Jones-Florio Twitter @floriophotonNYC Instagram Instagram Instagram Instagram

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