Our Nesting Sea Turtles: June-July 2019
History: A Sea Turtle Conservation and Community Development Project
We saw a growing need for more conservation and education in areas around the beaches predominately preferred by nesting Olive Ridley and Pacific Green Sea Turtles. COPROT Tortugas de Osa was first founded in August 2018 to offer assistance for ecological and community issues. We are an environmental conservation project that primarily focuses on community development and the conduction of research on nesting sea turtles.
Our main headquarters is in Carate, a rural town on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. Our camp is settled right before reaching Corcovado National park. Carate is known for its biodiversity, which has led to its popularity as a tourist destination. Development in Carate and surrounding areas in the past 25 years is mainly due to the increase in ecotourism with the construction of eco-lodges. These developments, although finacially beneficial for the area, have not increased opportunities for the local people of Carate.
The nearby beaches of Carate, Rio Oro, and La Leona on the Osa Peninsula are some of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the South Pacific. Each beach is close to 2.5 kilometers with approximately 4,000 nests laid by the Olive Ridley (classified Vulnerable by the IUCN) and more rarely the Pacific Green (classified as endangered by the IUCN) sea turtles. These beaches are essential for the protection of our marine wildlife. We lose approximately 25% of nests per annum because of high levels of poaching and predation on turtle nests in the area.
With the continuation of ecologically damaging activities carried out by local people we realized that in order for there to be changes on our beaches we needed to work with the community. We recognized that giving the gold-mining community and other local people the opportunity to work in conservation could solve a number of pertinent issues in the Osa Peninsula. We began recruiting locals in September of 2018. Our local staff started out originally as volunteers and have shifted to becoming salary based workers for COPROT with funds we gain from sustainable tourism and donations from wonderful supporters all around the world. We pride ourselves, our volunteers, and most of all the community in our accomplishments so far. We have obtained permits for beach exploration and conservation at La Leona, Carate, and Rio Oro beaches, all located around the town, Carate.
By providing jobs to former gold miners and educating them on sea turtle conservation they have found purpose in meaningful work and are now proud to be a part of the project. Our project is right in the heart of an area that has long had a history of gold mining. Not only does mining emphasize the idea that illegal activity is okay, but it also takes a toll on the environment and negatively effects the people who work in mining environments. In addition, many people consume the wildlife in the surrounding areas, including turtle eggs. Currently, we have local staff who are trained in scientific data collection who are learning English so that they may soon lead tours to educate others in the harm we can have on the environment. In Carate, we are actively working with the locals to create more jobs, generate knowledge in conservation, and provide a sense of community empowerment.
Since the beginning of 2019 we have been developing our base camp located just a few hundred meters from the entrance to Playa Rio Oro, on a piece of land that has been offered to us by the landowner for use for our project development (thank you!). We have built our camp with nature in mind, and have used primarily sustainable and natural resources, upcycling the majority of wood and other materials from old buildings no longer in use.
The two-story traditional style rancho provides an airy mixed dormitory where our staff and volunteers can sleep in the middle of nature, as well as being right in front of the area of beach with highest sea turtle nesting activity.
In order to promote sustainable development, we are also in the process of creating a small-scale permaculture project on the new property, where we are able to grow and produce a considerable amount of our own food for our staff and volunteers. This will reduce our reliance on purchasing food from unsustainable sources, as well as allow us to support local people in food production. One of our long-term goals is to become a completely zero waste facility!
For a large portion of the year our camp is buzzing with a combination of local and international staff members, students, as well as local and international volunteers.
Throughout the week we stay busy with:
- Turtle patrols (morning census and night patrols)
- Data input and management
- Beach cleans
- Maintenance of the beach for data collection (sector posts, GPS, checking nests)
- Excavations of hatched nests
- Hatchery building days
- Bamboo cage making and distribution for nest protection
- English lessons for staff or other community members
- Presentations for students, tourists etc. to raise awareness and promote our project
- Gardening and maintenance of camp
- Social media and website updates
- Managing local dog populations
Our Biggest Problem Locally, Aside From Poaching
With a great nose and swift digging skills, the locals and stray dogs of Carate are known to dig up and eat unprotected nests. We have started to manage the free-roaming dog populations with capture, castration, and adoption facilitation of feral dogs. Furthermore, we educate local people to be more conciencous of their dogs off leash, ensuring their dogs are well fed, and not roaming on the beaches. All so we can help control the easily avoidable dog predation of already vulnerable sea turtle eggs.
Protection and Conservation of the Turtles:
- Increase hatching success rates by protecting nests and in extreme cases, relocating nests to hatcheries.
- Increasing the chances of hatchlings reaching mature adulthood.
- Reduce predation and poaching rates on our beaches by carrying out regular patrols.
- Helping turtles that have suffered injuries as a result of bycatch, pollution, and damages from boats, other animals, or natural causes.
- Regular beach clean ups where we reuse garbage that is washed up on the beach and recycle the rest.
- Collecting data and conducting research to influence policy makers and to fill in information gaps in scientific research studies.
Community Involvement in Conservation:
- Provide better jobs with a steady income to people in the community. Specifically gold miners and ex poachers.
- Educate locals on the importance of conservation within their community, to promote safe practices of ecotourism, and be more aware of plastic consumption and littering.
- Provide English lessons to improve the lives of locals and to help community members take on leading roles in our project for tours, education, and manage overseas volunteers.
- Offer other services or tours, outside of turtle conservation, so that other community organizations may have a substantial income as well from ecotourism.