Greetings from the Corcovado Foundation Sea Turtle Conservation Program! Every turtle season is different, and 2013 has witnessed some big changes and some positive steps forward for the community of El Progreso. The program has welcomed more volunteers than ever to Drake Bay this year, up around 30% compared to 2012, and more volunteers are participating for four weeks or more. In order to increase support the local community conservation association, ACOTPRO, it is also now mandatory for all volunteers to spend at least a week in a homestay house, and most prefer to stay in their houses for the entirety of their stay. This has led to a dramatic increase in income for the houses in the homestay network, earning 60% more in just four months this year than they earned during the entire 2012 season! Nine local houses have now been established as ACOTPRO homestays, and families have begun to divide income from their households so that even more members can benefit. So far sixteen members have received income this year from housing volunteers, up from nine in 2012.
The story from the nesting turtles though is less positive, and the 2013 season has reminded everyone just how endangered the sea turtles are and how they are teetering on the brink of extinction in Drake Bay. During the period 01 July to 15 October 2013 just 72 turtles came to nest on Drake Beach. This is the lowest number of nests registered during this period in any season since 2006 and the hatchery sadly remains only half full. We all sincerely hope that this reduction in numbers is just part of a long-term cycle in nesting activity, and that the village will find lots more turtles nesting next year. One piece of very good news is that Drake Bay seems to be once again welcoming rare species to its nesting beaches. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, endangered Pacific Green turtles were found on Drake Beach and their nests incubated in the hatchery. This year, for the first time since in perhaps ten years, critically endangered Pacific Hawksbill turtles have laid nests on the beach! This came as a great shock to the team of locals and biologists since no one had actually witnessed the adult female nesting… it only became clear when hatchlings were being released from a nest on the beach that these beautiful little coffee-colored babies were very different from the normal gray Olive Ridley turtles that the team was used to (see photos!).
The turtle camp has received lots of special attention this season, as the new building continues to be improved and modified by the volunteers. New infrastructure built this year includes a spacious clothes-drying building, new paths and gardens, and a hydroponic allotment in which the volunteers have already begun to cultivate their own lettuce, basil, cilantro, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and onions.
The training program for ACOTPRO has increased in intensity, as the Corcovado Foundation attempts to provide the locals with all of the skills that they will need in order to run their own turtle conservation project and volunteer program in 2014. Activities have so far included a business plan exercise and formulation of the vision and mission of the organization, an accounting workshop, and a volunteer-led workshop to improve the ACOTPRO website, in order to make their program more attractive to international volunteers. The next phase includes workshops to assist with team planning, and the division of responsibilities between the ACOTPRO associates, the formulation of volunteer coordination protocols and tools, and the creation of their own training presentations and manuals. Efforts will continue into 2014 to provide support to ACOTPRO during this transition, while the Corcovado Foundation also starts to support additional communities in the Osa Peninsula.
From 2014 onwards the Corcovado Foundation plans to begin working with the Ministry of Environment (MINAET) to protect one of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the Osa: the beaches of the Río Oro National Wildlife Refuge. Plans are shaping up already so watch this space for more information, and let’s continue to save the turtles of the Osa and support the rural communities in their mission to develop sustainable ecotourism and protect their unique environment for future generations to enjoy.
The turtles and the community in Drake Bay and Río Oro thank you for your wonderful generosity!
Volunteers planting vegetables
The new hydroponic allotment
Training ACOTPRO patrol leaders
Baby Hawksbill turtles!