• Alliance for Tompotika Conservation

    Conservation of sea turtles at Rosario, Nicaragua

In Brief

Location:

Reserva Natural Nacional Volcán Cosigüina, Gulf of Fonseca (Pacific Ocean), Nicaragua

Goal:

To conserve three species of sea turtle (olive ridley, hawksbill, and green turtle) by initiating a community based conservation program.

Threats:

Egg collection is a traditional activity that is currently taking place at unsustainable levels. A local group has a plan for action that engages with the local community.

Size of Area Involved:

10-km long beach.

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Actions & Results:

  • Engage and train community conservation agents.
  • Monitor and protect turtle nesting areas with day and night patrols.
  • Construct facilities for a turtle nursary that will release around 12,000 hatchlings per six months.
  • Hold public presentations on turtle conservation for the local community and at schools to build awareness of turtle conservation needs.

Cost:

2016 budget: $9,880

Baby turtles emerging.  photo: Candra Schank

In More Depth...

Background

Around 50 sea turtles per month nest on the Pacific oceanfront by Rosario, a community of 600 people located approximately 30 km from Cosigüina within the Department of Chinandega.  

Sea turtles are a very important element of global biodiversity. Throughout their life cycle they play specific roles that are integral to varied marine ecosystems including seagrass beds and coral reefs. They also play a significant role in the culture and economy of coastal communities both through the consumptive use of eggs and meat and more recently through tourism.

Most species of turtles, will eventually migrate to coastal habitats rich in food resources, where they graze and grow to maturity. Depending on the species, they can reach sexual maturity between 10 and 15 years, when they migrate from coastal feeding areas to the nesting beaches where they were born. These migrations are conducted every few years by both females as males, and can cross large pelagic regions that are often thousands of kilometers.

Worldwide there are seven species of sea turtles, five of which occur in Nicaragua, the third most important region for turtle nesting, after Costa Rica and Mexico.  In the Pacific, four species nest: olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), hawksbill or piñuelera (Erethmochelys imbricata), Pacific green or torita, (Chelonia mydas agassizii) and tora turtle, trunk or laud (Dermochelys coriacea). In the Caribbean four species nest in Nicaragua: the Green Turtle, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and the Leatherback.

Nicaraguans are fortunate to have several beaches on both the Pacific and the Atlantic where turtles come to nest. However, turtles face many threats to survive and nest successfully. Natural mortality occurs from predation by fish, birds, raccoons and octopus.  Human harvesting of turtles and their eggs for food impacts the olive ridley, while hawksbill turtles are exploited for bracelets, necklaces, oil, calipee (cartilage), leather, shell and other curiosities.  Turtles also get trapped and suffocate in fishing nets, and thousands of sea turtles die from eating or becoming entangled in non-biodegradable waste, including bottles, balls of oil, balloons, bands packaging and poroplast. The odds are long for turtles reaching full sexual maturity.

Turtle eggs have been used by coastal communities for food since pre-Columbian times. By the late 1970s egg harvesting was documented as a serious problem, reaching levels close to 100% in those nesting beaches where there was no protection.  Given the serious state of sea turtles, egg collection was prohibited by Ministerial Resolution MARENA (No 45) in 2005.  However, pressure from collectors remained significant — close to 100% on beaches where no protective measures are carried out and 10-50% in protected areas.

Trade in sea turtle eggs is a complex issue involving a wide range of actors along a supply chain.  It thus requires a multiplicity of solutions.

This project advances the protection and conservation mainly of Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea), hawksbill (Erethmochelys imbricata), and green turtles (Chelonia mydas agassizii) and will build local support for the conservation of sea turtles in the Fonseca Gulf. In recent years, collecting turtle eggs has gradually increased in the coastal community of Rosario, so the strategy of building a community nursery is a tool of awareness as well as conservation.

Actions
  • Create a group of Agentes de Conservación Comunitario (community conservation agents) to reduce threats on the 10-km oceanfront of the community of Rosario.
  • Train these individuals and develop protocols and schedules for their work.
  • Monitor and protect turtle nesting areas with day and night patrols.
  • Construct facilities for the turtle incubator and caregiver.
  • Collect eggs for the nursery, operate the nursery and release turtles after hatching. The project is expected to release around 2,095 hatchlings per month or 12,570 hatchlings per six months.
  • Hold at least two public presentations on turtle conservation for the local community. Conduct presentations at schools. The expectation is that 50% of the population know more about the importance of sea turtles and do not want to consume eggs or turtle meat.
  • Train local participants in the turtle conservation program.

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