The world’s oceans are home to seven species of Sea Turtles. These graceful creatures have existed unchanged for one hundred and ten million years (110,000,000). Today, all seven species are endangered and out of those four are critically endangered. The beaches of Northwestern Nicaragua have experienced a Ninety-five percent 95% decrease in the number returning Sea Turtles.
In years past this location was the nesting home to five different species. Currently, only three species return to nest and in drastically reduced numbers. This year at the Sea Turtle Rescue facility the staff only heard rumors of the nesting of two Leatherback turtles. The Olive Ridley, which used to come to this beach in arribadas (the mass nesting of hundreds of individuals turtles simultaneously), now come in numbers of twenty-five (25) or less during the peak of the nesting season. It is our estimation that these turtles will soon lose the numbers and genetic diversity required to survive on these beaches unless we intervene.
The causes of the decrease in the Sea Turtle populations are easy to identify. There are three primary factors. The first is the poaching of Sea Turtle nests. In the four years that I have lived on this beach, I have only been aware of two natural nests that have hatched naturally. I estimate that Ninety-nine percent (99%) of all nests are robbed before the nesting turtle has returned to the sea. Second, local fishermen are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of adult turtles each year. The local fishing fleet is comprised of approximately fifty (50) open hulled Twenty-eight (28) to Thirty (30) foot launches using handmade nets and long lines. None of the nets are equipped with “turtle excluders”. The long lines, two hundred (200) foot monofilament with multiple baited hooks, are particularly hazardous to feeding Sea Turtles. Finally, pollution has a severe negative impact on feeding Sea Turtles. Nicaragua, as with many developing nations, has a severe problem with waste management. Incredible amounts of garbage are thrown into river beds during the dry season and washed to sea in the rainy season. Much of this trash consists of plastic bags which look like Sea Turtle’s favorite food, the jellyfish.
When a Turtle eats a plastic bag it becomes lodged in its esophagus and the Turtle suffocates. These problems appear daunting; however, they are all caused by humans. We believe that anything caused by humans can be solved by humans through direct intervention and education.
The search for solutions to the challenges facing the survival of the Sea Turtles in Northwest Nicaragua have given the call for action to save these endangered sea creatures. Sea Turtle Rescue started slowly, but we have gradually gained experience, knowledge, and momentum. Continued effort and growth of the Sea Turtle Rescue project will make a difference and help save the Sea Turtle from extinction.