Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in partnership with the Latin American Sea Turtles Association (LAST), recently concluded Operation Pacuare, our first sea turtle defense campaign in Costa Rica. The successful anti-poaching sea turtle campaign launched on August 15, 2014, and included volunteers local to Costa Rica, and others from around the world, patrolling the eight mile-long stretch of Pacuare Beach nightly in search of nesting turtles and their nests.
Over the course of the campaign, Sea Shepherd’s volunteers located 42 nests on the nightly patrols. Finding these nests resulted in the relocation of a total of 4,737 sea turtle eggs, including 559 endangered leatherback, 1,532 endangered green and 2,646 critically endangered hawksbill eggs. However, not all eggs result in hatchlings as some eggs aren’t fertile or the hatchling fails to develop in the appropriate time needed. And thus, 269 leatherback, 1,163 green, and 1,546 hawksbill hatchlings were successfully released into the ocean – that’s a grand total of 2,978 sea turtles saved!
An unspoken, primitive “poacher law” exists in Pacuare that the first person who finds a turtle or nest, can lay claim to it. Keeping this in mind, our nightly patrols were that much more important. If our volunteers found a nest, the eggs would be removed, and carefully transported to a guarded hatchery. But if a poacher found a nest, it would be dismantled, with the eggs sold as a believed aphrodisiac on the Asian black market. If a nesting turtle was spotted on the beach, she could safely return to the ocean under the watchful eyes of Sea Shepherd’s volunteers who ensured she would not be poached for meat.
The hatchery incubated sea turtle eggs in safety, away from both animal and human predators. Once they emerged, each sea turtle hatchling was measured and weighed to further scientific data on the species, before it was immediately released into the ocean.
Not all sea turtles on Pacuare Beach this year were saved at night. As a Sea Shepherd volunteer surveyed the beach one afternoon, an adult female green sea turtle was found flipped on her back, presumably by poachers, rendering her immobile. It would only be a matter of time before these poachers would return to kill her for meat. Despite the unspoken “poacher law,” volunteers bravely stayed with the turtle, most likely caught while attempting to nest on the beach, and alerted the Costa Rican Coast Guard. Afraid to face their crime, the poachers never returned to claim the sea turtle. Meanwhile, volunteers worked with the Costa Rican Coast Guard to return her safely back to the ocean.
Protecting Costa Rica’s sea turtles isn’t a task for Sea Shepherd volunteers alone. Through community outreach and employment, Sea Shepherd aimed to foster the appreciation locals have towards protecting the sea turtles that frequent Pacuare Beach. Hiring locals as guides for nightly patrols on the beach accomplished this. Not only did this allow for volunteers to be more effective on patrols, but it also provided an income to the locals in this small community where there are few ways to earn a living.
Sea Shepherd volunteers also worked on other projects in the community to help improve the living conditions for the small local population. The local health clinic, a basic and essential resource to every community, was entirely unusable. Due to its poor condition, volunteers worked to thoroughly clean the clinic, allowing medical care to resume the very next day for local residents. Volunteers worked to clear the main water channel of overgrown vegetation, allowing easier boat access to the community. Additionally, volunteers helped with necessary repairs to the local community center.
The combination of Sea Shepherd’s direct action by way of nightly patrols to keep sea turtles out of poachers’ hands, and helping rebuild the local island community, has made an impact on the conservation of several endangered sea turtle species in Costa Rica. It is our hope that some of the hatchlings will survive into adulthood, and be able to return to Pacuare Beach to nest one day.
Thank you to all of the volunteers and kindhearted supporters who contributed to this campaign and made it possible to save so many lives, whether it be through donations, encouragement or time.
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