In 2006 the Corcovado Foundation initiated the Sea Turtle Project at Playa Drake in response to an appeal from locals in Drake Bay regarding the rapid disappearance of the nesting Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivácea) population. The project was established with three areas of focus: a conservation program using standardized scientific methods to promote the long-term survival of the nesting population, by protecting the turtle eggs from illegal poaching and natural predation; an environmental education program to increase awareness of the negative impact of the exploitation of natural resources; and a development program led by an association of trained local leaders (ACOTPRO) designed to foment sustainable socio-economic alternatives for the community through ecotourism and regular contracted work at the project. With around 45.000 hatchlings released into the Pacific in five years, the demonstrable success of the project so far has in part been due to the application of rigorous conservation methods on the beaches. However, the real success story lies in the transformation of the mentality and economy of the local community. By pursuing a policy of clarity, transparency and respect, the program has succeeded in empowering local people and equipping them with the skills and infrastructure to take control of their own economic future.
Now facing its sixth season, the project has taken several steps forward this year with increased collaboration and integration with the community. Members of ACOTPRO now benefit from the project directly through regular contracted turns leading patrols or managing the hatchery, and they take on further control over other aspects of the project as partners, including the management of the annual turtle festival. Another very positive development is the utilization of homestays within the local community to house the international volunteers. This initiative has proved to be extremely popular with both volunteers and local families, and facilitates further distribution of income throughout the ACOTPRO community, which now includes members from surrounding villages outside of El Progreso and Agujitas. Local leaders continue to act as guides for tourist night patrols and the Corcovado Foundation is helping to endorse and establish an increasing number of local ecotours and facilitate their integration into the tourist industry in Drake Bay. Consistent with the increase in academic interest in ecotourism and sustainable development, the turtle project has also begun to attract an increasingly diverse spectrum of volunteers who make available their specialized skills and experience to develop the various aspects of the project. It is hoped that the next phase of the project will see the emergence of a more permanent research station managed by ACOTPRO, attracting researchers wishing to support local development initiatives or to investigate the myriad local flora and fauna, bringing benefits to the community all year round and not just during the turtle nesting season.
This new form income for the community is driven by turtle conservation and the sustainable use of local naturalresources, and the creation of new regular contracted jobs in the small rural village of El Progreso has transformed local attitudes towards conservation efforts in the region. Preparations for the 2011 season have already been catalysed by the efforts of an unprecedented number of local volunteers, and it seems that the residents of Drake Bay may have awoken to the dawn of a new sustainable economic future that celebrates the unique and preciousbiodiversity with which they have been so generously endowed.
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