Each year for Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving), Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) targets one of its most pressing sea turtle protection projects as the focus for this annual charitable event. The campaign starts with a pledge from STC’s Board of Directors to match the individual donations provided by STC members and supporters, up to a certain amount. This year’s challenge match from the Board will be $33,000, which means our Giving Tuesday fundraising goal is $66,000 or more.
All funds donated for this year’s Giving Tuesday will be directed toward STC’s turtle research and protection efforts in Tortuguero, Costa Rica—the birthplace of sea turtle conservation. STC’s work in Tortuguero began back in the 1950s, making it the longest-continuous turtle conservation project in the world. Many of the turtle monitoring and protection efforts developed at Tortuguero are used today by sea turtle conservationists around the globe. In fact, many of the world’s leading sea turtle scientists and project leaders got their start as STC Research Assistants in Tortuguero. Most importantly, as a result of STC’s efforts over the last six decades, the green turtle colony that nests at Tortuguero recovered from near the brink of extinction to being one of the two largest green turtle populations in the world.
With all the history and success of this project, STC is concerned knowing that the gains made on behalf of Tortuguero’s green turtles could be in jeopardy for reasons that are poorly understood. Our strategy of systematically reducing threats to sea turtles both on the nesting beach and at sea produced measurable results over the decades. Beginning in the late 1970s, approximately 25 years after conservation efforts started at Tortuguero, the green turtle population began increasing in size. The timing was not a coincidence. Green turtles take at least that long to reach maturity—meaning hatchlings that were protected and released in the 1950s should have started returning to Tortuguero as adults to nest by the end of the 70s. That’s exactly what our data indicates happened.
From the 1960s up to 2012, the number of green turtle nests deposited in Tortuguero grew by over 600%. During high nesting years, it was common to document well over 150,000 nests in a season. The establishment of Tortuguero National Park, the elimination of global sea turtle trade, the banning of turtle and egg consumption at Tortuguero, and the development of sea turtle eco-tourism as an alternative livelihood for the local community all had positive impacts—proving that sea turtle conservation efforts developed by STC worked. Tortuguero green turtles were on the path to full recovery.
But something unexpected began to happen over the next decade. Starting in 2013, we began documenting a declining trend in nesting. It wasn’t a dramatic drop. In fact, given the phenomenal growth of the population prior to this time period, STC was not particularly worried about a few “down” years of nesting. The factors that cause annual turtle nesting numbers on any beach to ebb and flow still are not well understood. However, our cautious observation of the nesting trend turned into real worry in 2021, when after several down nesting seasons, the number of nests dropped to the lowest level in 25 years (about 40,000 nests for the entire season). This is still a lot of green turtle nests, and it reaffirms Tortuguero’s global importance for this species. Nevertheless, it sparked worry knowing that a little over ten years ago the number of nests hit 180,000 during a single season.
While our preliminary analysis of the 2022 nesting season indicates an encouraging uptick in nesting, the trend over the last decade still has us concerned that something unusual is happening. And that’s bad news for green turtles throughout the Caribbean and Atlantic. With funding raised through this year’s Giving Tuesday campaign, STC will launch important new studies and conservation efforts to help identify and address the threats that have caused the population decline. There probably is not a single “smoking gun.” Rather, it’s more likely that the collective impact of several threats is affecting the population. Our work will focus on identifying new marine foraging sites used by green turtles where they may be experiencing previously-undocumented hunting pressure. We also will work more strategically with the community and natural resource agencies in Tortuguero to curtail illegal hunting of turtles and eggs, which increased dramatically during the pandemic and still remains at an elevated level. It is entirely possible that unforeseen factors related to climate change could be impacting turtle reproduction, so this is another area where our focus will turn.
STC has proven that it has the skill, dedication and tenacity to ensure the long-term survival of sea turtles. We will not allow our decades of success on behalf of sea turtles at Tortuguero to be undone, but we need your help. Please consider making a special donation for this year’s Giving Tuesday (donations will be accepted for this purpose through the end of the year).
Help support STC’s Giving Tuesday Fundraiser by donating in one of three ways:
1. Online at www.conserveturtles.org/GivingTuesday or facebook.com/conserveturtles
2. Call 352-373-6441 with your credit card info
3. Mail a check with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line. All checks received with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line will count towards the campaign if received by December 31st.