Part of Sea Turtle Conservancy’s (STC) mission is to share its expertise in sea turtle research and conservation methods by offering training to other organizations, aspiring biologists, and start-up projects around the world. For example, STC’s Research Assistant program in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, provides hands-on, practical field experience to dozens of participants each year, with a focus on recruiting people from Caribbean and Latin American countries. In 2011, three members of the community of Vereda el Lechugal, located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, came to Tortuguero for training during the annual Green Turtle Program. These individuals belong to a community that recently established a sea turtle monitoring program on Playa Bobalito close to their village. After spending the season training in Tortuguero, their experiences were put into practice back in Colombia, where they incorporated newly-acquired skills to further develop their own turtle monitoring and protection project.
STC’s Dr. Emma Harrison remained in contact with the biologist overseeing the Playa Bobalito Project, and in 2012 learned of their interest to initiate a tagging program for leatherbacks. Recent aerial surveys and other anecdotal evidence suggest that the leatherbacks nesting along this particular stretch of Colombian may be from the same population that nests at several beaches monitored by STC in Costa Rica and Panama. Given the potential connection with STC’s own conservation projects, this presented a good opportunity to help expand existing knowledge about regional leatherback populations, while also supporting a new turtle conservation initiative. At the outset, it was important to STC that beach monitors receive proper training in how to correctly tag a leatherback, as well as other basic data collection and management skills. Thus, in April 2013, Dr. Harrison travelled to Colombia to provide a thorough training course to beach monitors participating in the Playa Bobalito Project (pictured above). The training covered general sea turtle biology, research methodology, and practical sessions on measuring turtles, marking nests and flipper tagging. STC will continue to provide technical support and assistance to the project at Playa Bobalito, and it is even possible that they might come across a leatherback that was tagged by STC at Tortuguero or Chiriquí Beach in Panama, adding another piece to the puzzle about where leatherback turtles from this population are nesting.
In addition to being a leading sea turtle research and conservation organization, STC has significant experience helping develop sustainable tourism activities. For example, STC conducts annual training of tour guides at Tortuguero and oversees a novel sea turtle-walk system that helps minimize negative impacts of tourism on nesting turtles and their habitat. This expertise lead to an invitation for STC to participate in a workshop held in Cuba this October to share experiences, both good and bad, of turtle tourism. Dr. Harrison represented STC and provided important guidance to colleagues in Cuba hoping to develop a model ecotourism program. Their goal is to develop sea turtle tourism as a sustainable source of financial support for conservation efforts in the country. Dr. Harrison reviewed lessons from tourism activities at two STC sites and offered general recommendations that will help guide the development of turtle tourism in Cuba. STC will remain involved in planning over the next few months as these endeavors move forward.