The first four months of the 2011 season of the Sea Turtle Conservation Program at Drake Bay have witnessed numerous firsts. For the first time in the history of the program a Pacific Green turtle has been registered and tagged whilst nesting on Drake Beach, culminating in the successful relocation and incubation of several Pacific Green turtle nests in the hatchery. The timely completion of the hatchery this year – the biggest constructed to date – has also meant that 90% of the nests found on the beach have been safely relocated to the secure enclosure, reducing the incidence of nest poaching to an all-time low of just 3.4%. The affiliation of two of the most professional and efficient ex-poachers in the community to the team has also helped to reduce poaching, but moreover the program has gained extraordinary new insight and skills which have demonstrably transformed the capabilities of the conservation effort.
But it is not just the turtles that have benefitted from the improvements to the program this year. In addition to equipping over 50 international volunteers with new conservation skills, the program has certified four more members of the local association of conservationists (ACOTPRO) as fully-trained leaders, bringing the total number contracted by the program to 19. Furthermore, the brand new network of homestays established in the village this year has already provided bed and board for 25 international volunteers working at the program, distributing cash from conservation throughout the ACOTPRO community, and giving birth to some beautiful new friendships and cultural exchanges in the process.
The team of biologists at the program has been expanded this year to include four research assistants from the USA, Spain and Australia, permitting the dedication of individual project managers to the delivery of each of the program objectives. In concert with staff from the Corcovado Foundation, research assistants Matthew Adams and Álvaro Amo are implementing a program of environmental education in three local schools, and also run activities for two out-of-school kids groups, known as The Jaguars and The Pumas, who are busy preparing performances and handicrafts for the forthcoming Turtle Festival. Newly recruited research assistant Caitlin Sullivan is project managing the festival but is also chief hatchery manager, presiding over the liberation of 2600 baby turtles so far this season. Research Assistant Kira James is conducting an original piece of research, using funds from a grant that she won competitively from the University of California, which aims to uncover how attitudes towards nature and conservation differ between local residents inside and outside of ACOTPRO, and how such attitudes may have changed over the last six years as a result of the program. Finally, efforts to promote the program this year, led by the coordinator Rob James, have resulted in a record 12 tourist night patrols and the adoption of 20 nesting turtles, raising over $3000 in donations for the program.
The extraordinary generosity of those who have donated money to the program, combined with the effort and determination of the members of ACOTPRO, the research team, and the international volunteers who donate their time and energy in the name of conservation, together continue to permit the recuperation of the population of endangered sea turtles that nest in Drake Bay. Through its interactions with the young people from the community, the program continues to disseminate knowledge about the natural environment, raise awareness of the plight of the sea turtles, and foster a new generation of locals with an awareness of the importance of conserving natural resources. Only time will tell whether this will ultimately be enough to save the sea turtles from extinction in the region.
environmental education in El Progreso School
Hatchlings making their first trip to the ocean
Coordinator Rob James liberating first hatchling