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The 20-mile-long Tortuguero Beach, located on the north Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, hosts the largest green turtle rookery in the world, along with important populations of leatherback and hawksbill turtles. For over 55 years, Sea Turtle Conservancy has conducted an annual research and conservation program at Tortuguero, which has achieved phenomenal success at increasing sea turtle population levels and replacing the consumptive use of sea turtles with sustainable ecotourism.
Despite this fantastic history of achievement, all three turtle species nesting at this beach still face numerous threats. To ensure that efforts of the last five decades have not been in vain, STC must continuing it’s monitoring and conservation program, while addressing new threats to the sea turtle populations and their nesting habitat.
The sort of threats observed at STC’s research sites also persist at beaches throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Through STC’s annual Research Assistantship Program, we are training aspiring biologists and resource managers in order to share the lessons learned by STC to build conservation capacity in the region and train the next generation of sea turtle biologists. Another critical element of the project is an ongoing program to create and maintain a sustainable eco-tourism program that directly benefits local communities and minimizes any harmful impacts on turtle nesting.
STC is seeking $20,000 through the Footprints Network to help fund the full project cost of $62,000. These costs include salaries for the project’s research coordinators, research supplies and equipment, food for station staff and volunteers, gas for project boats, and supplies for community outreach and education activities.
We also set aside funding to help Research Assistants to travel to Costa Rica from their countries. This often is the leading obstacle for some students from being able to participate in the program. STC raises a portion of annual project costs through revenue from the Visitor’s Center (entrance fees and merchandise sales), as well as from several annual grants from supporting foundations. Research Assistants are unpaid, but STC provides room and board throughout the season.
STC works hard to develop good relationships with the public schools in Tortuguero, and leaders of the communities where we work. We work closely with Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment, as well as park rangers who oversee Tortuguero National Park.
STC also provides training each year to local nature tour guides, including information on basic sea turtle biology, nesting behavior, and best practices to reduce impacts of tourist activities on nesting turtles. STC is a guiding member of the Tortuguero Conservation Area Regional Council, which is comprised of representatives of NGOs, education centers and the private sector; the Council plays a key role in the administration and management decisions of the Tortuguero Conservation Area (ACTo), including many issues that directly impact sea turtle conservation.
Within Costa Rica, STC shares its expertise and its data with a wide array of NGOs and government bodies. As a member of the Consultative Committee of the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Marine Turtles, STC has been able to share critical information to guide this international sea turtle accord.
For nearly 60 years, STC has conducted sea turtle research and protection on the Caribbean coast of Central America. This project fits well with the organization’s long-term strategies and goals for sea turtle recovery. All sea turtle species face considerable threats from poaching, habitat disturbance, marine pollution and interaction with fisheries. These threats are especially prevalent in Latin America.
In order to systematically improve sea turtle survival, STC must play a key role in training tomorrow’s conservation leaders. This program will help accomplish this overall goal.