Date: February 1, 1999
Contact: David Godfrey
Phone: (325) 373-6441
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA – Forty years of sea turtle conservation efforts by the nonprofit Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), the villagers of Tortuguero, Costa Rica, and the Costa Rican government, are paying off, according to an article published in the February 1999 issue of Conservation Biology. The study, which was conducted by scientists from the University of Florida, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and CCC, analyzed decades of green turtle nesting data collected by CCC at Tortuguero. Results showed that nesting emergences on the 22-mile beach steadily increased from 1971 through 1996. The average number of estimated annual nests increased from less than 20,000 to more than 50,000 in that time period.
“This is very encouraging news for green turtles and gives CCC strong reason to believe that the conservation efforts we have been conducting for 40 years in Tortuguero are working,” said David Godfrey, CCC’s executive director.
Tortuguero is the site of the largest remaining nesting population of endangered green turtles in the Western Hemisphere. The population is believed to have come perilously close to extinction in the 1960s when nearly every female turtle arriving to nest in Tortuguero was taken for the export market for turtle soup. CCC was established in 1959 specifically to study and protect Caribbean green turtles. Working closely with the Costa Rican government, CCC helped establish Tortuguero National Park in 1970, a move that offered protection to the turtles and strictly limited the number of turtles that could be taken.
Since the 1950s, CCC scientists and volunteers have conducted extensive nest monitoring Programs every year in Tortuguero and shared the findings with Costa Rican park managers. In 1971, CCC began hiring Tortuguero villagers to walk the 22-mile stretch of black sand beach and count turtle tracks. CCC’s sustainable development work with the Tortuguero community has demonstrated that live sea turtles on the beach have greater value for the villagers than dead turtles in the stewpot. Tourists pay considerable fees to watch sea turtles nest on Tortuguero Beach. Some 50,000 tourists visit Tortuguero annually to see nesting turtles and visit the tropical rainforests of Tortuguero National Park.
Although encouraged by the upward trend in sea turtle nesting at Tortuguero, scientists take the results with a grain of sand.
“This analysis should not be interpreted to mean that green turtles are no longer endangered. For instance, we know that there is considerable hunting pressure on the young turtles at their feeding grounds in Nicaragua.” said Sebastian Troëng, CCC’s research coordinator. “Given that green turtles need 25 or more years to reach sexual maturity, we won’t see the impact of that hunting on the nesting population for years or even decades.”
Troëng added that drowning in shrimp trawls, pollution and loss of nesting habitat to coastal development continue to threaten sea turtle survival.
In addition to research, CCC conducts advocacy and education efforts on behalf of sea turtles. In May of 1998, the presidents of Costa Rica and Panama signed an agreement to manage cooperatively the Caribbean sea turtles that migrate between the two nations. Nicaragua is also expected to participate in this agreement. CCC provided technical assistance to the Central American governments during negotiations for the agreement and is helping implement portions of the agreement through a regional outreach and advocacy initiative called Alianza Tortuga (the Turtle Alliance) that will involve sea turtle conservationists and hunters alike in the conservation process.
CCC, which was founded by sea turtle expert Dr. Archie Carr, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Its monitoring Program in Tortuguero is the world’s oldest ongoing sea turtle research and conservation project. The Program is of considerable importance to sea turtle research because it is the only Program of its kind with the longevity necessary to accurately assess population trends. Each year CCC invites novice naturalists to join the beach monitoring team at its Tortuguero Field Station as part of a unique volunteer Program. To find out more about CCC or how you can participate in one its annual research Programs, call 1-800-678-7853 or visit CCC’s web site at www.conserveturtles.org.