STC Programs: Research: Chiriquí Beach, Panama

Sea Turtle Conservancy is working to protect and restore the once globally significant hawksbill sea turtle nesting population at Chiriquí Beach, Panama. The program consists of intensive monitoring of hawksbill and leatherback sea turtle nesting activity, protection of nesting females and their nests, and public education in the region and will build upon an ongoing research project carried out since 1989 by Drs. Anne and Peter Meylan.
chiriqui-beach-panamaChiriquí Beach was once described by Dr. Archie Carr as the most important nesting beach in the Caribbean for the “critically endangered” hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). However, by the 1980s and 1990s, sporadic aerial and ground surveys suggested that nesting had declined as much as 98%. Although todays nesting population is only a fraction of what it once was, there is increased optimism that depleted hawksbill populations can respond positively to long-term protection. This optimism is based on increased hawksbill nesting activity in recent years on well-protected beaches in Mexico, Barbados and Puerto Rico. In Panama, increased hawksbill nesting has been observed at Zapatilla Cays in the last few years, very likely due to the enhanced protection that hawksbills have received since the cays became a part of a new national marine park in 1988. Results from STC’s sustained protection programs at other sea turtle nesting beaches give us confidence that depleted sea turtle populations can be restored through long-term, coordinated protection of nesting beaches and foraging grounds.

Chiriquí Beach also remains one of the most important sites for leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) nesting in the Atlantic, with as many as 7,170 to 14,005 leatherback nests deposited yearly between the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border and Central Panama.

The project will involve local students and indigenous Ngöbe leaders in order to build a connection between the community and the project.
chiriqui-beach-monitorsThis program should help protect and recover the hawksbill and leatherback populations of Chiriquí Beach and adjacent nesting sites. STC’s work in Panama will build upon an ongoing research project carried out since 1989 by Drs. Anne and Peter Meylan (Learn more about the Ecology and Migrations of Marine Turtles in Bocas del Toro Province, Panama Project conducted by Drs. Anne and Peter Meylan). This new project will mimic the success achieved by STC in its long-term green turtle recovery program at Tortuguero.

Project Partner Organizations
Many organizations and individuals have assisted with funding and implementation of the project, including: National Environmental Authority of Panama (ANAM), central offices Panama City, regional offices in Changinola, Bocas del Toro and the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca. General and Ño Kribo Regional Congress of the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca. National Police of Panama (PNP), Association for the Protection of the Ngöbe-Buglé Natural Resources (APRORENANB), Río CaÑa, Association for the Conservation of the Ngöbe-Buglé Natural Resources (ACORENANB), Río Chiriquí, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Florida Wildlife Research Institute (FWCC-FWRI), Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), Eckerd College (EC), Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).


STC’s Research Assistantship Application for 2018 Season