The olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) are the only sea turtle species to exhibit synchronized mass nesting behavior, termed "arribadas," during which hundreds to thousands of turtles nest within a few days on a single beach. Isla CaÃ±as, located on the southern (Pacific) edge of the Azuero peninsula in central Panama, and nearby Guanico Abajo (40 km west on the peninsula) are home to two of the eleven remaining olive ridley arribada beaches in the world. Although listed as a protected area by the Panamanian government in 1992, locals were still allowed to harvest and sell sea turtle eggs in neighboring communities until 2008 through an exemption in Panamanian laws. Locals of Isla CaÃ±as are working toward a shift in the culture of consumption to a culture of conservation, using eco-tourism and research to involve local youth in the project.
The first population survey of the olive ridley sea turtle on Isla CaÃ±as was made in 2013 through a collaboration of non-profit organizations including Isla CaÃ±as Agricultural Eco-Tourism Group (GAETIC), the Foundation for Water and Land (Fundacion de Agua y Tierra), The Science Exchange, State of the World's Sea Turtles (SWOT) and the U.S. Peace Corps. As a Peace Corp Volunteer, I recruited two interns from a San Diego based student science program and began to work with a local Panamanian biologist. Together, we trained local community members to conduct this population survey using Dr. Roldan Valverde's Strip Transect in Time method (STIT). Unfortunately, arribada levels were too low to conduct the survey following this methodology during the inaugural year with less than 50 turtles nesting at one time. The largest arribada held 1125 turtles over the span of two days and we estimate a total of 4000 turtle nests happened during the season, though over half the nests were poached during the 2013 season. Furthermore, efforts to raise awareness in the community led to more functional conservation measures, allowing the artificial hatchery in place to release around 250,000 hatchlings during the season.
Because I have completed my Peace Corps service, I need your help to continue this effort to better understand this vulnerable population and build community support for the conservation of this distinctive species. A budget to cover these expenses, including hiring local research assistants during arribada activity, is listed below. For a total of $4,750, it will be possible to achieve these goals. All costs listed below are in USD.
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