CCC Hosts Central American Sea Turtle Workshop

Fall 1997 Issue Articles:

* Negotiations Begin on Tripartite Sea Turtle Agreement
* CCC Hosts Central American Sea Turtle Workshop

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CCC Hosts Central American Sea Turtle Workshop

By David Godfrey

More than 50 participants from all seven Central American nations recently convened at CCC’s John H. Phipps Biological Field Station in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, for a week-long workshop to address regional sea turtle conservation. Representatives of government agencies, conservation organizations and local communities gathered at the “Regional Workshop for Sea Turtle Conservation in Central America” from September 26 through October 1 to develop cooperative conservation strategies addressing everything from illegal harvesting to habitat loss.

The workshop, which was organized by the Costa Rica-based organization ANAI and Caribbean Conservation Corporation, was the first of its kind ever held in Tortuguero. Funding for the workshop was provided by the U.S. AID-funded PROARCAS project and by CCC. In addition to sharing valuable information and developing regional conservation priorities, participants also passed a number of significant resolutions. During the opening session, participants dedicated the workshop to the memory of Dr. Archie Carr, in recognition of his pioneering research and efforts to protect sea turtles in Central America.

CCC Executive Director David Godfrey gave an opening address in which he called for increased networking and regional cooperation for sea turtle conservation. Archie Carr III, a CCC Board member and Regional Coordinator of the Wildlife Conservation Society, also spoke about the need to coordinate conservation strategies in the region. Dr. Anne Meylan, a member of CCC’s Scientific Advisory Committee, gave a presentation on nesting beach management in which she emphasized the vulnerability of sea turtles and nesting habitat to human exploitation. Dr. Meylan pointed out that nesting beach management should be as non-invasive as possible and that hatcheries should only be considered if no other viable management options exist.

Tom Ankersen, professor of law at the University of Florida College of Law, presented the draft of a proposed agreement between Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The “Tripartite Agreement” is a CCC initiative to conserve the West Caribbean green turtle population through regional management. The draft Agreement was produced in cooperation with researchers, lawyers and egional conservationists.

CCC staff members Sebastian Troëng, Roxana Silman, Freddy Piedra, Grethel Monge and Alonso Rankin gave a presentation on marine turtle research and conservation in Tortuguero. In addition to talking about CCC’s public education and recycling initiatives, an estimate of the illegal harvest of turtles from Tortuguero National Park was presented (see article on page 6). Alonso Rankin presented the results of this season’s track count surveys and explained the extent to which illegal harvesting had affected the results. The Research Assistants of the 1997 Green Turtle Program had, in spite of a very demanding work schedule, prepared six scientific posters for the workshop, presenting the preliminary results of this year’s data collection. Poster subjects included tag loss, nesting activity, remigration, population modeling and biometrics.

Following the workshop presentations, participants divided into country working groups and spent two days identifying national priorities and developing action plans for sea turtle conservation. The Costa Rican group identified Tortuguero as the most important nesting beach in the country, and they found illegal harvest to be the most severe threat to sea turtles in Costa Rica. Uncontrolled coastal development, illegal egg harvest, incidental catch in shrimp trawls and lack of environmental education were also identified as being important factors affecting sea turtle populations in Costa Rica.

The workshop discussions were held in a constructive and cooperative spirit, and participants signed several resolutions to further sea turtle conservation in Central America. These included a resolution calling for Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama to sign the Tripartite Agreement. Another resolution condemned the illegal harvest of sea turtles from Tortuguero National Park and called for the Costa Rican government to swiftly address this growing problem. This was one of the only workshops of its kind ever held in Central America, and it provided an excellent forum for identifying regional and national priorities for sea turtle conservation. The consensus reached at the workshop regarding necessary actions to be taken, the resolutions passed and the contacts made between sea turtle workers, combined to establish the workshop as a milestone for sea turtle conservation in Central America. CCC hopes to regularly host or participate in similar workshops in the future.