The work with sea turtles at the Pacuare Project is particularly unusual this season with the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. A nesting project that depends heavily on funding and labour from international citizen scientists to protect sea turtles from poaching pressure was left with only four local guides, a biologist and two international research assistants. During full season, the 7 km beach has up to six or seven patrols a night, and around the clock care of our hatchery.
When the coronavirus started to spread, many countries, including Costa Rica, quickly closed their borders. This left the project with little funding and few helpers. We had to scale down to only one or two patrols a night, leaving several hours each night and at least 2 km of beach unmonitored.
Although COVID-19 has put most people in quarantine, it has not stopped the immense poaching pressure. In fact, poaching pressure has remained the same or arguably become higher. Without work during the pandemic, there’s less money and less food. Poachers have more time to search for turtle eggs at night, whether it’s to eat them or sell them on the black market. This season, nearly 45% of nests have been stolen. Green sea turtles are poached for their meat and hawksbills are hunted for their carapace to make jewelry out of.
Support from the Coast Guard has also been limited, as they can’t perform their regular patrols during the pandemic either. However, when called upon for help, their presence is highly effective in relieving poaching pressure.
Despite everything going on with the pandemic, we’ve been able to adapt and perform exceptionally well. Even being limited to one or two patrols a night, we’ve been able to infer information from false crawls and environmental conditions to increase our probability of finding nesting females. Because of this, we’ve been able to protect more than 55% of the nests in 7 km of beach from February to May, which is the third highest protected season since 2012. Without a doubt, we’ve been able to achieve this thanks to the community, the support of the local guides and research assistants. We continue to patrol daily, protect nests in our hatchery, and safely return baby sea turtles back to the ocean, almost all voluntarily, without losing hope that everything will return to normal in the not too distant future.
If you want to help until it does, please do consider helping from afar by giving to the Biosphere Expeditions appeal.
Eduardo Altamirano, Biologist Pacuare Project