By Lexie Beach
Since 2003, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has been working to recover hawksbill turtles at Chiriquí Beach, Panama – a remote, 20-mile stretch of coastline just south of Bocas del Toro that is one of the most important hawksbill nesting sites in the Caribbean. Hawksbill nesting at Chiriquí was nearly wiped out by decades of extensive harvesting for the international tortoiseshell trade. However, STC’s sustained presence has greatly reduced poaching and other threats, and nesting levels are increasing each season. While STC’s work at Chiriquí began as an initiative to recover hawksbills, it has been exciting to discover that this same beach hosts the fourth-largest nesting colony of leatherbacks in the world, with up to 6,000 nests per year.
Recently, STC took advantage of a fantastic opportunity to expand its leatherback conservation work in Panama to include a site at Soropta Beach, a nearby blacksand beach on Panama’s Caribbean coast. In 2013, STC was approached by the London-based Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), which has monitored and protected leatherbacks at Soropta Beach since 2002. For financial reasons, EWT was no longer able to operate the project at Soropta, and they asked STC to take it over and manage the project.
Unfortunately, for years Soropta’s leatherbacks and their nests have been illegally harvested by poachers who kill the turtles for their meat and raid nests to steal the eggs. STC’s conservation program is helping prevent poaching by protecting nests, monitoring nesting activity, and building support for turtle conservation with the local community. The work takes place out of a rustic station, where the lack of electricity made the work extremely challenging – until now.
A state-of-the-art clean solar energy system is now helping STC protect endangered sea turtles at its research station on Soropta Beach. Designed and installed by FTL Global Solutions (FTL), an innovator of lightweight, rugged energy systems for use in remote areas, this reliable green energy system now supplies power for lighting, security, water and cooking needs as STC biologists work throughout the night protecting endangered leatherback turtles and their hatchlings at one of the most important nesting beaches for this species in the Atlantic.
“The new solar energy system installed by FTL Global Solutions is making our conservation efforts more effective and safe,” said STC executive director David Godfrey. “Acquiring solar energy at a remote place like Soropta Beach could not have been done without the expert advice and assistance of FTL. Their team guided us through the process; helped deliver the system to our remote station and even sent an expert to install the system and train our staff in its use and maintenance.”
“What makes the lighting so powerful is what it brings to Soropta,” said FTL spokesperson Paul Murphy. “The lighting extends the useful working day allowing the teams to achieve much more during each day, plus the social cohesion it brings to Soropta is incredible.”
The FTL solar energy system now provides critical power needs to the station’s various buildings where staff members live, work and eat. Running water is now supplied to a restroom and shower facility, and the station compound and dock now have security lighting in place.
“The first evening the lights were in and turned on was the first evening that the teams actualy sat around the table after dinner and just talked,” said Murphy. “The camaraderie was a delight to watch, the joy on faces when the lights were turned on for dinner was moving. What FTL brings is more than just a lighting solution– it’s a life changing solution.”
Although improperly managed artificial lights can disorient nesting turtles and their hatchlings, STC has used the latest turtle-friendly lighting technology throughout the Soropta station. All lights use red LED technology and are completely shielded from view on the beach. Using such technology, it is possible to provide light for human needs and safety on the beach without disturbing nesting sea turtles and other coastal wildlife.