Volunteers working with an Olive Ridley sea turtle
Our long-term goal in Drake Bay has been to create a viable socio-economic alternative to egg poaching for the community who live and work alongside an important sea turtle nesting beach. Ten years ago, the reality in Drake Bay was not different to hundreds of other beach communities in Central America, where sea turtle eggs were considered both a source of income and of protein on the dinner table. For decades, the harvesting of eggs by local residents resulted in the loss of over 85% of the nests laid in the area each year.
Since 2006, however, members of the community have worked with the Corcovado Foundation to protect these turtles and relocate their nests to a secure hatchery so that every egg has had a chance to hatch. Over 90% of the nests have been saved in this way and over 72,000 babies released into the sea. Moreover, the community has realized that the sea turtles are worth more to them alive than dead, and that is possible to generate income from the turtles through conservation and eco-tourism, by participating in night patrols and by housing international volunteers in their homes.
We have calculated that had the community continued to poach at the same rate and sell every nest they would have earned around $12,000 since 2006. By contrast, through their participation in the Corcovado Foundation sea turtle program, local families have earned over $120,000 (ten times more) through salaries and income for housing volunteers. While the former income was unsustainable, there is no reason why the community cannot continue to use sea turtle eco-tourism to lift them out of poverty. They have learned, in short, that conservation pays.
In 2015, the program began a new project at Río Oro beach – the most important sea turtle nesting site in the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The beach has exceeded all expectations, as over 2,200 turtles have nested in just three months, but it is clear that poachers still pose a major threat to their survival at this site.
As in Drake Bay before, a small group of locals is responsible for most of the poaching, and also for causing damage to river systems through the illegal extraction of gold. Sadly, these individuals do not have diverse skill sets and have come to rely upon the extraction of local resources as their primary source of income. There is therefore scope at the Río Oro site to replicate the success of the community-led program in Drake Bay through the creation of alternative sources of income for these people through the development of eco-tourism.
The program plans to construct a field station and visitor center at Río Oro in 2016, with the support of local stakeholders and organizations, and is in the process of securing funding. The field station would provide a public space for education activities, the display of local exhibitions and artefacts, and a visitor center to attract tourists to the site and foment cultural exchange. The program would also develop a sea turtle tour and an artisanal gold panning tour that would be marketed to volunteers and tourists visiting the area, the income from which has the potential to completely substitute that which the community currently make from the much more destructive largescale extraction of gold.
In order to consolidate our work with the community in Drake Bay and construct a permanent field station at Río Oro we need to raise around $30,000 USD by the end of the year. We are also in need of a vehicle in order to cut down our transportation costs. With this key infrastructure in place, the program would be a position where it could operate without the need for grants in the future, and could guarantee the protection of the sea turtles at these two important nesting beaches for years to come.
We are offering our donors a real opportunity this year to make a tangible and permanent contribution to the conservation of sea turtles in the region, and support the sustainable development of the local communities with which they interact.
Make a donation today, large or small, and help us to save the sea turtles from extinction!
To keep up to date with the daily goings-on at the program, visit: https://www.facebook.com/cfseaturtles, and read our volunteer blog here: http://cfseaturtles.blogspot.com/
Thank you for your support!
Volunteers leaving after a week at Rio Oro