Meeting The Most Endangered Turtles
Summer in Portland, Oregon is wonderful. Warm sunny days blend gradually into crisp nights even at the height of summer, a perfect climate to explore the Columbia Gorge, Mt. Hood, and the Oregon Coast. So why did I give up two weeks of my hometown’s best weather to visit the hot, rainy, and buggy coastal areas of El Salvador and Nicaragua?
When you get the opportunity to tag along with some of the world’s leading turtle conservationists to put satellite tags on possibly the planet’s most endangered sea turtles, you say yes and start looking at airfares. My non-profit wildlife conservation travel, SEEtheWILD, supports this work with donations and helping to promote these sites to volunteers and ecotourists, and I’ve been wanting to visit these sites for years.
Over ten days, I traveled with a small, diverse group of people to visit four key sea turtle habitats in two countries. We put transmitters on six turtles at two sites, attended a turtle festival, and met local residents working to support conservation programs. I will be sharing these experiences with blog posts, images, and more in the hopes of educating people about the threats that sea turtles face in this region and how people can participate in their conservation.
A few of the inspiring people I traveled with included Alex & Ingrid Gaos, the driving force behind the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, one of the most hopeful turtle conservation stories out there; Jose Urteaga of Flora and Fauna International, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and one of Nicaragua’s leaders in turtle conservation; and Dr. Jeff Seminoff, director of Marine Turtle Research at the National Marine Fisheries Service of NOAA. Others include Randall Arauz, recent winner of the prestigious Goldman Prize and founder of Pretoma, a leading wildlife organization in Costa Rica; Enriqueta Ramirez, founder of ViVAZUL and one of El Salvador’s leading young turtle conservationists; and Liza Gonzalez, current Nicaragua Director for Paso Pacifico and former director of the Nicaragua protected area system.
Some researchers believe the hawksbill turtles of this region are the most endangered population in the world; fewer than 500 nesting turtles remain at two sites. A network of people are working to bring these turtles back from the brink while at the same time providing opportunities for improving the lives of coastal residents near turtle hotspots. I’ll be posting about how these hawksbills have chosen mangroves over coral reefs (unlike the rest of their species around the world) and about innovative programs that are providing optimism for the future of turtles in the region. I hope you will join me on this exploration to learn about one of the world’s most charismatic and endangered animals.
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