Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname

by Stg Green Heritage Fund Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Turtle heroes: Protecting Sea Turtles in Suriname
Plastic pollution of sea turtle nesting beach
Plastic pollution of sea turtle nesting beach

Who is part of the solution to plastic pollution?

In September, we will participate in Clean up the World Weekend, an event aimed at raising awareness on the amount of pollution in our environment and bringing people together to clean it up. It is unfortunate that we still need to have these days and organize events to raise awareness on pollution. Despite knowing the harmful effects of pollution, especially plastic pollution, humans continue to produce, use and discard plastic in an unsustainable manner. As we know, our trash usually does not stay in one location but travels to other places, countries and even other continents. 

This waste is a problem for animals everywhere, including sea turtles. In the ocean, they can get entangled in waste, such as plastic rings and fishlines, or mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and ingest it. But the accumulation of waste on the nesting beaches can also cause problems for the sea turtles, preventing the adults from finding an ideal nesting place and sometimes forcing them to return to the sea before being able to lay their eggs. The hatchlings can get trapped in or hindered by the waste on the beach which can slow them down, giving predators an even better chance of catching them or causing them to dry out if they stay in the sun for too long. Recent studies have also shown that microplastics found in the sands on the nesting beaches, can raise the temperature in the sea turtle nests. The sex of sea turtles is determined by the temperature in the nests. Lower temperatures mean more males and higher temperatures more females so higher temperatures in the nests mean that more females will hatch. It is clear that plastic pollution is a danger to sea turtles in all of their life stages and unfortunately, we are still seeing a large amount of waste being accumulated by humans.

While it is obvious that there are a lot of issues, we notice an increased awareness of the issues and more importantly, an increased willingness to be part of the solution! We receive calls from various people, organizations and companies saying “we want to help!”. That is why we are involved in various projects and activities to raise awareness and find solutions for plastic pollution in Suriname. In September only, we are working on our own awareness activities and are involved in 2 projects that target this issue. These projects and activities are being organized with or by different organizations that target different groups from adults to children. The first is a Green Challenge Summer School for children between the age of 8 and 14. The children will participate in a designathon during which they will learn more about plastics and design solutions for plastic pollution in Suriname. The individuals or groups with the best designs will get the opportunity to pitch their ideas to four investors in the “Turtle Tank”, a panel consisting of four Surinamese companies that produce plastics. The winner will get SRD100,000, provided by the panel, and assistance to further develop their design.

We were also approached by the Foundation for Sustainable Nature Management in Alusiaka (STIDUNAL), a community organization for environmental protection consisting of members of the indigenous village Galibi where one of the biggest sea turtle nesting beaches is located, to help them develop a billboard to raise awareness on pollution among the community members and visiting tourists. They created a sketch of the design and we helped find a volunteer to execute it and fund the production of the billboard. We hope to be able to deliver the billboard when we go to the village in September for our summer activities. During the summer activities which are aimed at the children in the village, we will play games and teach the children about the mangroves, sea turtles and the harmful effects of pollution. Since the activities are scheduled during the Clean Up the World weekend, we will also organize a beach clean-up with the community members.

Sometimes it may seem like our work is not enough, and the reality is that a lot more work needs to be done. But we cannot do it alone, it’s simply impossible. That is why we continue to organize the cleanups, the awareness sessions and summer activities to educate people, raise awareness and even change hearts and minds! People participate, not knowing much about the environment and the dangers of some seemingly harmless activities they had been engaged in. They leave, empowered with knowledge and fueled by a passion for the environment and join the growing group of people around the world who want to be a part of the solution!

Thanks to your contribution these activities are possible, and help save lives of sea turtles.

Plastic pollution on its way to sea
Plastic pollution on its way to sea
Several sea turtle nests with plastic around
Several sea turtle nests with plastic around
Meeting village leaders to discuss awareness
Meeting village leaders to discuss awareness
Promoting the green challenge summer school
Promoting the green challenge summer school
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Pre-COVID activities with children at Galibi
Pre-COVID activities with children at Galibi

I was 20 years old when I first saw a sea turtle, working as a volunteer at Braamspunt. It was a green sea turtle that had crawled ashore at dusk to lay her eggs. During my time as a volunteer, I also saw the threats these animals face and what needs to be done to protect them. This experience motivated me to increase my involvement in sea turtle conservation. Unlike most coastal countries, Suriname's general public does not have a strong connection with the sea and many people are not aware of the importance of the sea of Suriname to marine life, including sea turtles. Many have never even seen a real sea turtle and maybe never will if we do not act now to protect them. 

According to the WWF Living Planet Report of 2020, there has been a sharp decline in leatherback nests on our beaches, 95% to be exact. In 2018 there were only 719 leatherback nests counted in Suriname and while the official numbers for 2019 and 2020 are not in yet, they don’t look good. This report prompted WWF Guianas to write a regional action plan for the Guianas in which we are participating. While a lot of issues were discussed during the meeting, one thing became abundantly clear, there is a need for more education on sea turtles. Of course, we already knew that, which is why awareness is a key component of our sea turtle community programme. After all, how can we expect people to actively participate in the protection and conservation of these animals if they are not given the opportunity to do so? There are not a lot of activities that provide the general public with knowledge on sea turtles, and motivate them to advocate for the protection of these animals.

That is why we had planned to organize a 3-day workshop and fieldwork with university students and volunteers in 2020, as well as school visits and summer activities for elementary school students during which the participants would learn more about sea turtles, the threats they face and what they can do to protect these animals. Unfortunately, we had to cancel most of these activities due to COVID-19. However, we won’t let this stop us! We are currently converting the in-person workshop into a virtual course. The course will cover several basic concepts such as the biology of sea turtles, the threats they face and will also provide information specific to Suriname. Since the course is now virtual we have reached out to other marine biologists and researchers to ask if they would be willing to cover some of the course material. 

The schools have been closed for most of the year, meaning that the school visits could not take place. Instead, we have decided to make a fun sea turtle course for kids. To do this, we’ve enlisted the help of two secondary school teachers. One already has a youtube page that he uses to educate his students, and the rest of Suriname, about the environment and the human body. The other teacher is a tour guide with years of experience in sea turtle tours. 

While the COVID-19 situation in the city is worsening, Galibi, the indigenous village we work with, has so far remained COVID-19 free. We have organized holiday activities before to teach the children about the sea turtles and their role in the ecosystem in a playful way. The village leaders have expressed interest in similar activities for the summer of 2021, with due observance of the covid 19 rules. 

While COVID-19 has proven to be a significant obstacle for the execution of this programme, we continue to work towards our goal of providing knowledge and raising awareness. We believe that providing people with knowledge and the proper tools, will not only motivate them to actively participate in the conservation of sea turtles but also empower them to advocate for the conservation of not only sea turtles but the entire ecosystem.

The work with the community, children and going virtual is possible, thanks to your generous support!

These are the animals we want to protect
These are the animals we want to protect
Cheyenne conducting pre-COVID awareness activity
Cheyenne conducting pre-COVID awareness activity
Preparing for the virtual course on sea turtles
Preparing for the virtual course on sea turtles
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Helping sea turtles make it to the water
Helping sea turtles make it to the water

In 2018 we decided to focus more on sea turtle awareness after we learned that this was necessary for Suriname. How did we know? In 2018 we went to various schools, community service organizations, and political parties with an expo about the sea of Suriname and a survey about the ocean. This survey and conversations with various people revealed that little is known about sea turtles. Besides, there are still people in Suriname who eat the eggs. And our beaches and sea are still being polluted by trash that people throw in the rivers. For us it became clear that there was a lack of awareness, so if sea turtles are little known, how can we protect them? For us, it became clear that filling the gap in knowledge about sea turtles and the laws and regulations that protect them was a priority.

Our response came in the form of the Sea Turtle Community Program. Within this annual program, we aim to educate the people of Suriname more about sea turtles and actively involve them in the research and protection of these animals. At the beginning of 2020, we prepared to take groups of volunteers and university students to the nesting beach of Braamspunt. Before that, they would follow three days of theory lessons. In the field, they would help to collect sea turtle data and see for themselves what it is like to protect these animals. But then came COVID19….

As a result of COVID19, like many organizations around the world, our workshops could not continue, and we had to reorganize our fieldwork. The question was: is it possible to find volunteers in these uncertain and, yes, scary times? Fortunately, the answer to that question is: yes, it is possible!

We were able to get together a group of great volunteers. Students, teachers, and citizens with a love for nature willing to join us in the field in these uncertain, and scary times. Thanks to these great volunteers, were able to do a lot of work, such as collecting data and saving sea turtle babies from predators (true story)! It was a unique experience for the volunteers. Most of them have seen sea turtles for the first time and now have great stories about seeing them hatch and saving them from predators.

This group of volunteers has gained a lot of knowledge and experience, which they can share with their friends, fellow students, family, and neighbors. Now that they have experienced the conservation concerns in the field, they can better advocate for the protection of these amazing animals. After all, when you know better, you can do better!

This year's nesting season has come to an end, but the volunteers still ask: When are we going back? With your help, we can tell them: Next year, when the nesting season begins again. With or without Corona!

At the end of 2020, we want to thank you for your support and wish you a good end of the year celebration and a 2021 that will be good to all of us and our planet! Stay safe and healthy 

Some of the volunteers that were willing to help
Some of the volunteers that were willing to help
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Organization Information

Stg Green Heritage Fund Suriname

Location: Paramaribo - Suriname
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @moniquespool
Project Leader:
Monique Pool
Director
Paramaribo, Suriname
$22,553 raised of $56,750 goal
 
36 donations
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