Costa Rica: Update from Pacuare beach 2

In Pacuare, we are continuing to run the project just with the local leaders, one research assistant and the biologist. The green turtle season is small and slow with just few nests, but because of this with a great success rate of saving nests from poachers.

For leatherbacks, the hatchling time has now finished with numbers similar to  previous seasons (see reports about those here). The eventual poaching rate was around 40-50% depending on the month.

Thank you again to all those who supported the continuation of work despite the pandemic. For most of you this was by donating from afar this year. But we hope to return in person in 2021 and our expedition dates in May 2021 are on the website. Do join us if you can!

Costa Rica: Update from Pacuare beach

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

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Costa Rica: Turtle conservation in coronavirus times

This year everything is different. The country is effectively closed and so are all its beaches. This means there are no international volunteers or citizen scientists with us this year.

The main threat for our sea turtle nesting beaches is through illegal poaching. But COVID-19 has stopped us dead in our tracks and we currently have just our key local staff of one biologist and two research assistants struggling to patrol 7 km of beach to save as many nests as possible. But our funding, which comes from expedition contributions, is now lacking too, so we are struggling to pay our local staff. We are grateful to a couple of our local guides who have offered to work for free for the peak nesting season. Another piece of good news amongst all the mayhem is that our lobbying and education work with the government is finally paying of. So this year, just in time, we also have more support from the coastguards, who are also more available because all beaches are closed to the public.

So all in all, we are surviving here. So far we have managed to save round half of all nests overall. This is a far cry from the around 70% we can achieve with volunteers and underlines how critically important they are in what we do, but it is nevertheless impressive, given the very difficult circumstances.

Here are the latest figures from Pacuare:

  • 125 leatherback nests this year – 67 protected in hatchery (54%)
  • 53 females identified
  • 740 hatchlings released from 15 nests so far
  • Emergence success rate 73%
  • 5 green turtle nesting activities with 2 nests protected in hatchery (40%)
  • 1 green turtle killed by poachers
  • Overall percentage of leatherback and green turtle nests saved so far 47%
  • By comparison, 67% of leatherback and green nests were saved in 2019 with the help of citizen scientists

Thank you to everyone who has supported the Biosphere Expeditions fundraiser so far. This is a crucial component to our success in spite of the pandemic this year. Please keep giving, if you can. The peak nesting season is still to come and every cent or penny will count!

Nicki Wheeler
Volunteer Coordinator
Latin American Sea Turtles