Desert island risks

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Santa Luzia island, Cape Verde © Liz Smith

Inspiration to protect remote and difficult places

Piercing sun, dry, rocky ground, and a solitary ex-military canvas tent ripped at the sides by strong Atlantic winds. In the only shade, dust sprays as sparrows can be seen scuffling for water dripping from the tent’s fresh water barrel tap. This is the scene on arrival on Raso, an islet too remote for permanent inhabitation, after seven hours of a sea-sickening boat ride. Not the place you’d expect to find the entire population of a Critically Endangered lark, let alone a small passionate team of conservationists there to protect it and other unique endemic species from extinction. On a nearby island, Santa Luzia, a regular flow of international volunteers come to brave isolation and early morning hikes to patrol and conserve a nearby island, Santa Luzia, for nesting loggerhead turtles and seabirds.

“We do it for love. There are big challenges, like bringing all freshwater by boat, but we do it because otherwise the turtles, shearwaters and larks will disappear from here.”  Patricia Rendall-Rocha, Biosfera

Cape Verde Shearwater © Daniele Occhiato / Agami



Where: Santa Luzia, Raso & Branco, Cape Verde

Key species: Cape Verde Shearwater Calonectris edwardsii (NT); Loggerhead Turtle Caretta caretta (VU); Raso Lark Alauda razae (CR)

Project partners: Biosfera, SPEA (Portuguese Society for the Protection of Birds), RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)


A volunteer force

With a lack of staff and the need to be present on the islands for 4 months a year, Biosfera and SPEA cannot run their lark, seabird and turtle monitoring programmes without volunteers. Generally, people (especially young) are excited to have the opportunity to visit adventurous places otherwise impossible to access, help amazing species, at the same time receive environmental education, and even help motivate NGO staff too. There are benefits to recruiting volunteers from local communities (especially those which previously harmed nature, such as turtle/seabird poachers), and from abroad too (which helps spread messages beyond borders).

“You have to be flexible, you have to know very well the environment in which you work. So keep your minds open, keep your projects flexible because you will need to change something.” Tommy Melo, Biosfera

Desert island dedication

The three remote Cape Verdean islands with their associated wildlife, volunteer camps and fishermen © Andrea Canfora

Teatime with fishermen

On these isolated islands with no rangers, no-one will know if fishermen are killing turtles and seabirds. Biosfera discovered they were poaching 15,000 shearwaters a year, as well as female turtles and their eggs. Once, Tommy camped out on Raso to protect shearwaters from poachers, and when his food ran out, he risked shark-invested waters to freedive for fish. Now, over tea in the fishermen’s shelters on the island, they discuss the environment together.

“Every day, little steps,” says Tommy. “Now the fishermen work with us. They help us count the birds, build the turtle hatchery, and adopt nests. It was a big, big change.”

“Since we are here, they respect us and our work because they see every day that we are walking, that it is difficult,” explains Patricia. “They have established a relationship with us and the turtles and most now know from their hearts not to poach.”

Fishermen used to poach an estimated 15,000 Cape Verde Shearwaters a year but now help with the conservation work © Awatef Abiadh / CEPF Med




"Our vision is a huge marine protected area in Cape Verde that includes all three islands, with us as a government partner and the link between them and the fishermen.”

Tommy Melo, Biosfera




Tommy Melo | • Pedro Geraldes |





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The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Conservation International (CI), the European Union, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. Additional support in the Mediterranean Basin is provided by the MAVA Foundation. More information on CEPF can be found at

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A dedicated Regional Implementation Team (RIT) (expert officers on the ground) guides funding to the most important areas and to even the smallest of organisations, helps build civil society in the region, and shares learned lessons and best practices. In the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot, the RIT is entrusted to BirdLife International, including its Middle East office and the BirdLife Partners DOPPS/BirdLife Slovenia and LPO/BirdLife France.