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Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has been working at several locations in the Bocas del Toro Province of Panama since 2003 to monitor and protect endangered sea turtle nesting populations. The region sees globally-important levels of nesting by critically-endangered hawksbill turtles and leatherback turtles. Nesting is concentrated at several relatively undeveloped beaches spread around the archipelago of Bocas del Toro.
Among these beaches is Playa Bluff – the only beach accessible by car or bike from the town of Bocas. This proximity makes turtles nesting here highly vulnerable to hunting by illegal poachers, many of whom are members of the indigenous community of Ngobe-Bugle Indians living along this coastline.
Since STC began its work in the region 15 years ago, nesting by both Hawksbills and Leatherbacks seas turtles has been increasing. This is very good news that bodes well for the future of these endangered turtle populations. One unforeseen problem is that illegal turtle hunters in the region also see the increasing numbers of turtles, and this has made the turtles easier for poachers to find and exploit.
STC’s strategy, is to work with the local community to show everyone how turtles can be more valuable alive than dead by developing sustainable ecotourism based on the nesting turtles. The proximity of the town of Bocas opens opportunities to bring a steady stream of tourists to Playa Bluff to observe turtles nesting at night for a fee.
This venture can employ numerous local community members and generate sustainable income for the community that is greater and more sustainable than the money generated by killing turtles for their eggs, meat and shells. STC has considerable experience setting up such programs in Costa Rica and at other beaches in Panama, so we are confident this project will be successful as well.
The $15,000 raised through the Footprints Network will go towards:
The most significant partners in this project will be numerous members of the local community of indigenous Ngobe-Bugle Indians, who will be hired and trained by STC to conduct turtle tours and help with nest monitoring and protection activities.
For 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. Sea turtles are especially vulnerable to illegal poaching in the region – an activity that is often conducted out of necessity to generate income in areas where there are few other prospects for employment.
By initiating ecotourism based on the ability to take tourists to see nesting turtles, communities can be shown that turtles are worth more alive than dead – and that the income will be sustainable. STC has initiated exactly this sort of strategy at places like Tortuguero, Costa Rica, a community that hosts the largest nesting population of green turtles in the world. Once hunted nearly to extinction, the population is now very robust and healthy because the community has turned to ecotourism rather than turtle hunting as a source of income. We will achieve the same results at Playa Bluff, Panama.