Sea Turtle Conservation
NNI, and its friends and colleagues on the rural coast of Costa Rica, offers youth a holistic approach to
sea turtle conservation, crossing multiple disciplines and with a diverse group of stakeholders
in the private, civil and government sectors.
Monitoring programs help the scientific community to pinpoint and evaluate the most important interventions and policies required to support sea turtle conservation efforts for their population. Participants develop the technical and analytical skills while collecting and recording information to help researchers better understand the biology, behavior and population trends of the sea turtles. Walking on the nesting beaches, flanked by the oceans, mangroves, and rainforest students learn how the ecosystems are interdependent and how the health or decay of one affects that of another.
Fieldwork on nighttime and morning patrols on the nesting beaches include track surveys, collection of biometric data, physical exams , determination of nest survivorship and hatching success, tagging, collection of physical data, and collection of data on human impacts to the nesting beach and the turtles. On some projects, students also contribute to relocation of nesting eggs to safety to a hatchery and if lucky with the timing, can witness the first journey of the hatchling from the beach to the ocean to begin the next stage of its life cycle.
Outreach and Advocacy
Using multi-media, , interactive booths, bi-lingual presentations, arts and crafts, international skype conversation, NNI uses creative and resourceful means to raise awareness in the public about the threats and to extinction of the sea turtles, helping to close the gap between the scientific community and the local communities on the coast whose behavior directly affect the health of the sea turtle.
NNI cherishes its relationship with their friends and colleagues in the coastal communities with whom they have shared fresh pipa for years, (especially during their time of homeschooling in Costa Rica when they had the time and flexibility to travel to remote areas.) They introduce their friends and colleagues to NNI students who learn firsthand how sustainable conservation efforts supports not only the health of the turtle and its ecosystem but that of the people in the community.
NNI Participants meet and hang out with community leaders, local government and friends and families, some of whom were the first settlers in the region, to gain invaluable insight to the historic and cultural aspects of sea turtle conservation work. Pioneers, such as Ms. Junie, in her 90's, shares with NNI students how her family first settled the Caribbean village and how they helped to transform the culture of poaching the turtle and its eggs to protecting them in ways that supports socio-economic development. She recalls the support by ecologist, Archie Carr, in the 1950's, who not only invented turtle tagging but was the first to introduce the concept of the mystical sea turtle becoming extinct if poaching continued.
Costa Rica Projects
Sea Turtle Projects: Friends of the Osa (Osa Peninsula) Species: Green, Hawksbill, The Endangered Wildlife Trust (Pacuare, Limón) Species: Leatherback, Sea Turtle Conservancy (Tortuguero, Limón) Species: Green, Leatherback
At young ages, the co-founders of NNI have worked in the field with turtles, hiking through the jungle to the nesting beach with Manuel. Manuel has a six sense in spotting a nesting turtle on the midnight beaches in the Osa. He lives in a home right smack in the rainforest with his family, who was one of the first settlers of the Osa Peninsula.
Olive Ridley turtle spotted in Osa peninsula, Costa Rica
NNI and Manuel conducting a nest excavation
Beach in Osa peninsula, Costa Rica
Tortuguero is the biggest nesting beach for green turtles in the Western Hemisphere. These turtles can weigh as much as 700 pounds and grow to 3-4 feet in length. Thanks to the invention of tagging of turtles by Dr. Archer at Tortuguero in 1957, researchers now understand the life history of a sea turtle, including growth rates, sexual cycle, information about the long distance travels in the oceans after tagging, and the repeated nesting of the mother turtles on the same nesting beaches. With the local guide, we were able to observe the research team conducting many of the important activities, including the tagging of the turtles.
Biologist, Emma Harrison, teaching tagging
Analyzing turtle tracks during morning patrol
Learning how to measure leatherback carapace
Morning patrol with Endangered Wildlife Trust, Pacuare
Information about Sea Turtles
Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)
Kemps Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii)
Flatback (Natator depressa)
Green (Chelonia mydas)
Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea)
Importance of Sea Turtles
The Sea Turtle has two ecosystems, the marine system where it spends most of its life, and the beach/dune system, in which only the female participates for nesting. The destruction of the turtle ecosystem not only threatens the survival of the marine turtle, but it affects many other species of animals and plants, which in turn affect human beings by reducing the number of marine species and by altering the beaches and dunes.
For example, the Green Turtle in Muskie, off the coast of Nicaragua, as well as in Panama, and Colombia, feeds on seagrass, thereby keeping the length of the grass suitable for breeding and growth of many other species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. In this way, the Green Turtle maintains the health of the sea grass which sustains the food chain and marine life harvested by human beings.[ Another example is the Hawksbill turtle, which is important for the habitat of the coral reef. Yet another example is the Leatherback turtle, which eats jellyfish and is not affected by its sting, and helps to keep tropical beaches safe for people.
Marine Turtles lay their eggs on nesting beaches, and therefore affect the beach/dune ecosystem as well. Beaches and dunes are usually deficient in nutrients, so they are unable to support vegetation which is critical to prevent beach erosion. Unhatched turtle eggs, leftover egg shells from hatched eggs, and trapped hatchlings, provide the essential nutrients needed for beach vegetation.
All of nature’s ecosystems are intertwined, and destruction of one can affect the survival of another. Therefore conservation efforts to protect the turtles protect many other living species as well.
Threats to Sea Turtles
The most important human threats to the marine turtle, as outlined by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, include trawl fishing, longline fishing, marine debris, marine pollution, oil pollution, artificial lighting, coastal armoring, nourishment and dredging, harvest for consumption, illegal shell trade, beach activities, climate change and invasive species.
Having gone through classroom work and hands-on experience with turtle experts at Reserva Pacuare, Sea Turtle Conservancy at Tortuguero, and Friends of Osa, the students of Nature Now have a deeper understanding of the issues concerning the conservation of marine turtles. Nature Now can be effective in raising awareness in the local coastal communities and throughout the country, and can help support the national and global efforts to support policy to reverse the statistics of the Red List to ensure the survival of the species. Students can have a powerful and passionate voice in conservation, and we hope that these projects will make us better ambassadors for Nature.
X-ray of sea turtle with fishing hook in throat
Jewelry made out of turtle shell
Why do we tag sea turtles?
Data from tagging tells us valuable information about turtles:
- Migratory routes and geographic coverage
- Reproduction frequency
- Nesting frequency
- Precision with which turtle returns to beach
- Longevity after time when first tagged
- Growth rates