Please allow me a brief moment to introduce myself and the community at Playa Venao looking after the turtles. My name is Scott Crystal; resident of Panama for the last 12 years and have been living at Playa Venao with my family since the middle of COVID pandemic. Tortugas de Playa Venao AKA Save The Turtles is a small but extremely positively charged grassroots organization purely inspired by volunteers making our passion for being caretakers for the local Olive Ridley sea turtles. Our group includes a marine scientist from Africa - Mariska de Klerk; a marine biologist from Colombia - Eimy Suaza; a veterinarian student from Costa Rica - Daniela Elizondo Campos; a master chef from Guatemala - Andres Morataya; my wife Polly Chan, from Hong Kong & Panama; my daughter Clara, and myself, an American from Maine.
During the first year, we have already made a huge difference, and as the energy of our group builds and takes up momentum, we expect it to grow even larger. We built our first nursery, which was filled with 50+ nests. We have established a group of night patrollers to cover the beach during peak nesting season in 2022. We continue our work on fundraising along with establishing an educational committee to spread concepts of awareness and communications for involvement. Our hopes are to inspire and incentivize local eco-tourism with proprietors and residents; rehabilitate domestic poachers into allies; bring volunteers from inner-city schools to inspire future community leaders, and attract tourists here to create a more harmonious environment. Ultimately, our dream is to increase the survival rate for these majestic creatures and ensure their return to this beach for decades to come.
At this juncture, the data we collected was shared our 2021 and 2022 annual report. After a couple of years, we will have a proper set of metrics to share the improvements we are making. We will soon go to work on our 2023 annual report after we finish the season - which is going great despite a few hiccups.
My initial efforts to protect the turtles included driftwood shelters to protect them from dogs, human poachers, and vehicle or tractor damage. We also had made various multilingual signage made on broken surfboards strategically placed at various points and establishments along the beach.
With your support, we will work diligently to operate our nursery at Eco Venao. So far, we have released 23,449 babies. The community response has been nothing short of amazing! Although we try to limit guest attendance to 10 people at a time, we’ve had so many releases with more than that, and we're thankful to have extra volunteers around to help guide the guests.
Co-existing with nature is essential for these turtles to have a better survival rate and increase their numbers here at Playa Venao. Current data shows less than a few hundred baby turtles have made it down to the ocean in the first two years at natural nest sites. In some cases, we’ve reported as many as 7 nests laid in one night, but all have fallen to poachers, dogs, and tractors on the beach. This number of survivors is hardly sufficient to guarantee that even one turtle will return to lay eggs here 2 decades from now. Our group is already working together with the community by informing and reporting nesting site activity. We have our nursery running at full speed, and the increased numbers of survivors through nest relocation are making a difference. We provide the little ones with a safe nest site and offer a needed safe escort down the beach, scaring off gaviláns, pelicans, and seagulls with trained falcons is next on the list. We’ll continue to work together to protect the mother’s nests in sitio from dogs with black pepper and other crazy spices; and we are always on the watch out for human poachers. With a regularly staffed night patrol and actively managed nursery... we have hope!
Please share your ideas and get involved. We love collaborating with other activists with the same goals of being guardians of nature and positive leaders of socio-environmental agendas. Feel free to reach out to me personally, and we will go from there.
Thank you in advance for your kind support!
Scott Crystal / President of Tortugas de Playa Venao
Blue Venao, Villa 16, Calle Dr. Belisario Porras, Las Escobas del Venado, Panamá / PO Box 520, Raynham Center, MA 02768 USA