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
Cheyenne conducting pre-COVID awareness activity
Preparing for the virtual course on sea turtles