Sea Turtle Conservation & Environmental Education

by Corcovado Foundation
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Ricki appears on Drake Beach for the first time!
Ricki appears on Drake Beach for the first time!

Global Giving are generously offering a special Bonus Day on October 17, when they will match 30% of all donations made on that day. Please dig deep on October 17 to maximize the impact of your donation and help the community in Drake Bay to protect their sea turtles.

 

Around fifty years ago the beaches of Drake Bay would have welcomed four different species of nesting sea turtle: the mighty giant Leatherback, the beautiful Hawksbill, the majestic Pacific Green, and the rugged little Olive Ridley. After fifty years of intensive poaching of sea turtle eggs by the growing community of residents in Drake Bay, only the Olive Ridley survives in any significant numbers; and even though they thrive elsewhere in the East Pacific, the population in Drake Bay has been brought to the brink of extinction. Since the Sea Turtle Conservation Program began patrolling the beaches in 2006, however, egg poaching has been largely halted, offering a last minute chance for the sea turtle populations to recuperate. Will it be enough to save them from extinction in the area? Only time will tell.

 

After five years of patrolling the beaches of Drake Bay and Ganado, only one Hawksbill and a handful of Pacific Green turtles had been found on the remote Ganado Beach, and nothing except Olive Ridleys in Drake Bay. This all changed in 2011 when an unexpected gift with a mysterious teardrop-shaped shell crawled from the sea onto Drake Beach – a gregarious young Pacific Green turtle called ‘Talhula’. She became an instant celebrity. She was seen 14 times and left seven nests and was met by nearly everyone at the program, and a song about her was even performed by the local kids for the annual Turtle Festival of El Progreso. It was the first time a Pacific Green has been spotted on Drake Beach for at least ten years, and once she had left her final nest we sincerely thought that we would not see another of her kind until she returned to nest in a few years’ time.

 

Then, one morning in September 2012, the camp awoke to find a grinning patrol team still waiting in the hammocks to tell everyone the news that they had found a new, even bigger, even more beautiful Pacific Green nesting on Drake Beach the night before. This turtle, adopted by the school kids of Room 7, Sturt Street Community School in Adelaide, Australia, and named ‘Ricki’, was to be the celebrity turtle of 2012 – the turtle that everybody wanted to meet. She has already laid two nests, and we expect her to leave up to five more over the next two months J

 

Which each of Ricki’s eggs that is put into the hatchery to incubate, a more certain future for this species is in the area is nurtured, and it becomes even more important to protect Drake Beach as it re-emerges as a nesting site for the Pacific Green turtle – a much more seriously endangered species than the Olive Ridley. Unfortunately an egg poacher will not make this distinction and will not hesitate to deny these precious lives a chance to survive.

 

Please dig deep on October 17 to maximize the impact of your donation and help the community to protect their endangered sea turtles! However big or small, your donation will make a difference to the people and turtles of Drake Bay and help them to build a brighter future. Thank you for your kind generosity!

Ricki returns back to the ocean
Ricki returns back to the ocean
Talhula from 2011
Talhula from 2011

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The new camp in the village of El Progreso
The new camp in the village of El Progreso

The Corcovado Foundation Sea Turtle Conservation Program has never been busier. After six years without a place to permanently call home, in July 2012 volunteers and local staff were gifted a beautiful new camp in the village of El Progreso in Drake Bay – a blank canvass ready to be converted into vibrant base for the program, a home for the coordinators, and a hive of conservation activities. This was only made possible by generous donations made by local businesses, not-for-profit institutions from around the world, and concerned individuals like yourselves.

 

Throughout July and August, in addition to preparing the beach and building the field station for the 2012 nesting season, international volunteers worked around the clock constructing furniture, painting and decorating, planting trees and food, and organizing the logistics of the camp in order to bring online all of the new facilities and infrastructure. The camp, which used to be an old farm house, was refurbished and now features a dorm with a capacity of 12, bathrooms and showers, a kitchen, store room and bike station, and a multi-use rancho area equipped with a table, projector screen, book exchange and hammocks. Volunteers have also constructed a volleyball court, a scenic river trail, a community recycling station, and a hydroponic vegetable patch and composter.

 

On the beaches international volunteers have worked alongside members of the community association (ACOTPRO) to clean both Drake Beach and Ganado Beach (a beautiful wilderness sadly contaminated by thousands of plastic bottles washed up from the Pacific Ocean), and to prepare the hatchery and vigilance tower ready for the 2012 nesting season. The latter structure, known as the ‘chante’, was once again found to be heavily vandalized at the beginning of the season but was completely restored to a standard even higher than in previous seasons, thanks to a generous donation awarded to the program by Humane Society International. This grant also paid for new bikes in order for patrol teams to reach the beach, and new patrol equipment and dataloggers (digital thermometers) to monitor the temperature of nests on the beach and in the hatchery.

 

All of those involved in the program were rewarded with what has been the best season for turtle nesting since the program began. Despite a quiet start in July, the season suddenly burst into life and has since witnessed the most nests ever registered by the program in the month of August.

 

Unfortunately 2012 has also witnessed a big increase in the incidence of poaching, with local poachers being spotted on Drake Beach every night. Around 10% of nests have been lost so far this year to poachers, and the game of cat and mouse continues. From the beginning of September the program moves into a vulnerable period with the lowest number of international volunteers available and the greatest number of turtles nesting on the beaches. In order to deploy patrol teams onto the beaches every night and relocate turtle nests to the hatchery, the budget for local salaries is being drastically over-stretched. The cost to deploy the minimum number of local Patrol Leaders required for one night is $110. The program needs private donations more than ever at this moment to sustain this level of spending and maintain the struggle against illegal poaching.

 

Please dig deep and give whatever you can to the program this September, and help us to permit the survival of this endangered species in Drake Bay for future generations to enjoy.

 

The turtles thank you for your wonderful generosity!

 

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Volunteers decorating the new camp
Volunteers decorating the new camp
Cleaning the beach in Drake Bay
Cleaning the beach in Drake Bay
Building the 2012 hatchery with the community
Building the 2012 hatchery with the community
An Olive Ridley turtle nesting
An Olive Ridley turtle nesting

On 01 July the Sea Turtle Conservation Program will begin its seventh season protecting the beaches of Drake Bay from the threat of egg poaching. For the international volunteers and tourists who arrive at the program to each year, one of the first questions they ask is ‘how do we do it?’

 

Like many similar beaches around Central America, for decades Drake Beach was visited every night during the turtle nesting season by local egg poachers, or ‘hueveros’, from nearby communities. The hueveros succeeded in removing nearly every single nest from the beach and so the turtle population was brought to the brink of extinction. This pattern changed dramatically in 2006 when the Corcovado Foundation began to protect the beach and offered local people the socioeconomic alternative to work with the program as Patrol Leaders and earn a regular salary. Despite these opportunities however, there are still some hueveros in the community that continue to try to take nests, either to eat or to sell on the black market, and so international volunteers and local Patrol Leaders head to the beach every night to defend the turtles’ right to survival.

 

Throughout the entire rainy season teams of patrollers head to the beach from 8pm until 5am every night, enduring extreme weather conditions such as wind and heavy rain. The walking can be tough on the soft sand and the teams do not use any white light, so as not to deter any turtles from coming out of the sea. It takes a little time for the eyes to adjust to the darkness, especially when there is no moonlight, and so it can be quite a strange experience the first time. The teams walk quickly to look for tracks left behind in the sand by the turtles and find any nests before the hueveros can get a chance. Upon finding a track, which is surprisingly easy to spot in the dark, they follow it up the beach to see if there is still a turtle at the end of it. Sometimes they are lucky and the team gets to witness the magical nesting process, an instinctive set of actions programmed into the genes of every female turtle by 200 million years of evolution.

 

The Olive Ridley turtle crawls from the sea and selects a spot to nest in somewhere above the high tide line. Next she uses her front flippers and body to clear the area of debris and create a depression in the sand called a body pit. Once she is ready she uses her back flippers to carefully dig a perfect hole in the sand 45 cm deep, without looking, which includes a wider chamber at the bottom for the eggs to fall into. After dropping around 100 ping pong ball-sized eggs into the hole she proceeds to collapse the sand in on top of the nest and compact it down using her full body weight, before finally using her front flippers to cast loose sand over the site in an effort to camouflage her work.

 

This final step is somewhat in vain though as her tracks are easily visible and hueveros are able to ‘read’ the clues left behind in the sand and quickly work out where the eggs are buried. Fortunately for her though the Patrol Leaders of the Sea Turtle Conservation Program also have the same skills, so as long as the team arrives before any hueveros do, her eggs will be saved by the team.

 

After taking all of the eggs from the nest and recording data, the team now heads to the hatchery – a secure enclosure with 24-hour surveillance that offers protection both from hueveros and natural predators. Here a local Hatchery Manager carefully relocates all of the eggs to a new hole in the sand and looks after them while they incubate. Fifty days later the nest comes alive with tiny hatch lings climbing out of the sand, which the Hatchery Manager then carefully measures and weighs before releasing them onto the beach. The Program says its last goodbyes to the turtles as they may their way down the sand and into the surf to begin their amazing life journey, hopefully to return again some 15 years later to nest in the protected wilderness of Drake Bay.

 

Please help the community of Drake Bay and the Corcovado Foundation to continue to protect the endangered sea turtles, and make a donation to this wonderful community-led conservation program.

 

Global Giving are generously offering a special Bonus Day on June 13, where they will match 30% of all donations made on that day. Please dig deep on June 13 and support our grassroots initiative and help the community in Drake Bay to protect their sea turtles.

 

Thank you!

The nesting process of sea turtles
The nesting process of sea turtles
A local girl releasing hatchlings
A local girl releasing hatchlings

The wild and remote paradise of Drake Bay is famous around the world for its intense biodiversity. With the Corcovado National Park and the Isla del Caño marine reserve on its doorstep, the forests of Drake Bay are filled with monkeys, butterflies, insects and frogs, the skies filled with Scarlet Macaws, and the seas filled with whales and dolphins. But what it is less well known is that between July and December the beaches of Drake Bay also welcome hundreds of Olive Ridley sea turtles who come to nest each year. Since 2006, the Corcovado Foundation has been working with the local community to protect these turtles from the threat of illegal egg poaching, which had previously resulted in the loss of 85% of the nests. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of members of the community and teams of international volunteers, the Corcovado Foundation has saved over 90% of the nests laid since 2006, provided environmental education in local schools, created 20 local conservation jobs, and established the Turtle Tour for tourists visiting Drake Bay.

 

By coupling the income for local guides to the survival of the turtles, ecotourism holds the key for the sustainability of the program, and there are number of ways in which tourists can get involved and help the community of Drake Bay to conserve this precious natural resource. The Turtle Tour offers a special night patrol of the beach during for tourists, which includes a visit to the hatchery and the chance to witness a turtle nesting, watch a nest hatching, or release newborn baby turtles into the ocean. A daytime tour of the program is also available, and the two-day Turtle Festival that takes place on the first weekend of December is not to be missed. For the more adventurous of travelers, the program also offers short and long-term volunteering placements, which include training in how to work with sea turtles, a homestay experience option, and numerous daytime and nighttime activities. For those that can’t make it to the program there is also the option of adopting and naming a nesting turtle too.

 

The challenge that the program faces now is how to generate sufficient income from ecotourism alone to pay for the local payroll each year. The planned construction of a new program headquarters will provide a rent-free office for the community association, ACOTPRO, a permanent camp for volunteers, a community center and auditorium, and a tourist information venue from which to promote local ecotours and sell artisan products and merchandise for years to come. This base will permit the reduction of indirect costs to the extent that self-sufficiency of the program through ecotourism will become feasible. However, the program has raised only half of the funds required to complete the construction, and so donations are desperately needed in order to bring this next phase of the community development to fruition.

 

For more details about any of the above ecotour options or more information about how you can help the program, please visit www.corcovadofoundation.org, email robert@corcovadofoundation.org or call 8888 0745 (Drake Bay).

Example of a certificate and fact sheet
Example of a certificate and fact sheet

To adopt a turtle, click here: http://www.corcovadofoundation.org/adopt-a-turtle.html

To find out more about how adoption helps to protect endangered sea turtles, read on…

 

People who visit the Sea Turtle Conservation Program in Drake Bay often ask us, ‘how can you tell whether what you are doing is making a difference?’, to which we have to confess that we simply won’t know for perhaps another 20 years. This is because sea turtles are long-lived and slow to mature, and the 55,000 Olive Ridley hatchlings that we have released so far at the program may take some 15-20 years to become sexually mature, at which point we should start to see increased numbers returning to Drake Bay to nest. We have good reason to be hopeful though, since the future is finally starting to look bright again for sea turtles in the Atlantic, thanks to the superhuman efforts of conservationists and environmentalists over the last 30 years.

 

First the bad news though. The situation in the Pacific Ocean is pretty desperate for sea turtles, since the numbers of Olive Ridley, Leatherback, Green and Hawksbill turtles are all in decline. Nesting Leatherbacks have all but disappeared from East Asia, and there remains essentially only one beach in the Pacific where significant numbers still come to nest – Playa Grande in Costa Rica – the last bastion for this epic prehistoric giant in the Pacific. This tiny strip of beach currently constitutes the Leatherback National Park (Parque Nacional Las Baulas), but it lies precariously in the shadow of real estate developers who would love to convert this pristine wilderness into a haven for tourists, like neighboring Playa Tamarindo; and so the future of the Leatherback, like all other Pacific sea turtles, hangs in the balance. The continued protection of nesting beaches offered by conservation programs, such as that of the Corcovado Foundation in Drake Bay, is absolutely critical.

 

The story is quite different in Atlantic Ocean where some sea turtle programs, such as the Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica, have been running for several decades. Through a combination of the unfaltering effort of conservationists on nesting beaches and the enforced implementation of new ‘smart’ fishing gear, such as Turtle Excluder Devices and circular long-line hooks, some Atlantic sea turtle populations are now increasing exponentially! This includes that of the Kemp’s Ridley turtle in the Gulf of Mexico, whose numbers had fallen into the hundreds in the 1980s and was thought to be on the brink of extinction. There is no reason why this demonstrable success cannot be emulated in the Pacific too; but, time is not on our side, and we need to act right now! Here is how you can help:

 

Adopting a sea turtle is a wonderful way to lend your support to the conservation effort in Drake Bay and protect an endangered species, and it makes a perfect gift for a friend or loved one. Every year we register hundreds of female Olive Ridley turtles coming to nest in Drake Bay that do not have identification tags and who desperately need a name! By adopting one of these turtles you get the chance to give her a name that will stick with her forever, and you will be kept up to date will her story whenever we see her or whenever one of her nests hatches during the 2012 season.

 

Your donation will help to create sustainable conservation jobs for the community by paying for training and salaries for local contracted staff. It will also help to support the core team of biologists at the camp and will provide desperately needed cash to replace and maintain vital conservation equipment. Your donation will also support our environmental education and ecotourism initiatives in the region and will enable the program to become more self-sufficient, emulating the success of programs such as Tortuguero and SOS Tartarugas in Cape Verde who have become 100% sustainable through ecotourism. But most of all your donation will ensure that the nests left by your adopted turtle will be protected from illegal egg poaching, and that the maximum number of her hatchlings will make it safely into the sea.

 

Please follow this link to find out how you can adopt your very own endangered sea turtle and support the Sea Turtle Conservation Program in Drake Bay, Costa Rica.

 

http://www.corcovadofoundation.org/adopt-a-turtle.html

 

Thanks for your support!

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Promotion poster

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Organization Information

Corcovado Foundation

Location: Moravia,, San Jose - Costa Rica
Website: http:/​/​www.corcovadofoundation.org
Project Leader:
Alejandra Monge
Moravia,, San Jose Costa Rica

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