Help Bocas to protect our dear friend: the turtle!November 1, 2020
I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Raul Garcia Varela, Assistant Research Coordinator of the Sea Turtle Conservancy. In 2012, Raul began volunteering in the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) Research Assistant’s Program in Tortuguero, Costa Rica during both the leatherbacks and green turtle nesting seasons. Two years later, he was promoted as the Field Research Coordinator.
Raul was so passionate about the STC program that he was offered an opportunity to move to Bocas del Toro in 2016 by David Godfrey, Executive Director of STC. As we continued our conversation, it was apparent that he is proud of the staff he works with and around 40 local workers who continue to educate and manage the STC in Bocas del Toro.
The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the most established and the longest running sea turtle organization in the world. STC is a not-for-profit organization based in Gainesville, Florida and founded by Mr. Joshua B. Powers and Archie Carr in 1959. His mission was to raise awareness and to protect the sea turtles all around the world. The vision of the STC is to ensure the survival of all sea turtle species. Many activities that endanger the survival of the sea turtles, including poaching for their eggs, meat and shells are very common, therefore, education is a priority.
The main objective of the STC program is to stop the illegal activities related to sea turtles and to find an economic alternative for the people that poach sea turtles and eggs, so they can survive without hurting the turtles. To help, STC employs local workers as part of their team. It is impossible to hire everyone, so the team finds different strategies to empower the workers to gain money in a different manner and to appreciate the environment.
Even though the STC is an accomplished organization, the continuous support from the public is needed. Raul shared three areas where individuals can contribute towards a wonderful cause. First, long term volunteers with a 3 month participation, with a related study or experience in the field is required. STC will cover food and accommodation. Second, short term volunteers in Bocas are required to pay for their own food and accommodations. Feel free to email Raul at Raul@conserveturtles.org .
Volunteers outside the Bocas area, can submit their information through the website:
https://conserveturtles.org/get-involved-sea-turtle-experienceThird, a donation will be appreciated and can be donated through this website https://conserveturtles.org/support-stc-make-a-donation-to-stc/
What I have learned from Raul about STC is the continuous effort from everyone to protect the sea turtles because of the important role they play not in just the ocean environment but the global environment the turtles have in the health of our planet. To learn more about the Bocas del Toro Sea Turtle Conservancy please visit https://conserveturtles.org
TIPS NOT TO FORGET WHEN YOU SEE A TURTLE
While boating, it is wise to keep a good look out for sea turtles to avoid collisions. Boat strikes on turtles can be very fatal, so if you are in a boat and you see a turtle in the water it is wise to keep your distance and avoid surprising sea turtles. Especially avoid disturbing resting, sleeping or actively feeding sea turtles. If you see a sea turtle that shows signs of distress, fleeing in fright, swimming in a hazard manner slowly and calmly and move away. Always make sure that you take all trash home with you. Trash can kill, especially when it is mistaken for food. For example, Leatherback sea turtles sometimes swallow plastics, which they mistake for their favorite food item, jellyfish. NEVER try to spear, harass or ride sea turtles. These activities can cause distress and can be harmful to sea turtles.
During the nesting season, which can occur at any time of the year, but is generally from March to November, some special considerations apply to sea turtle nesting beaches, therefore, try to avoid using beaches for campfires or barbecues. Keep all dogs away, as they can trample on, confuse, startle or attack hatchlings, or even eat eggs or hatchlings.
At night, keep beach lighting to a minimum, artificial light confuses sea turtles. It is best to shield, re-direct or switch off any lighting that is visible from a potential nesting beach. Never shine a flashlight (torch) at a sea turtle’s face from any distance. It is best to turn off all car headlights when nearing beaches, to minimize disturbance to nesting sea turtles and hatchlings. DO NOT approach closely (within 5 to 10 meters) or shine lights on a sea turtle that is leaving the water or moving up the beach. It is best to stand completely still at the vegetation line and watch quietly.
If after egg lying is finished hide all evidence of nesting to avoid eggs being discovered and stolen! On beaches where sea turtles or their eggs are often poached cover any sea turtle tracks seen, once the sea turtle has returned to the sea. Disguise the nest and tracks by brushing
Them over with a coconut branch or other shrub.
Never drive on sandy beaches. This compacts sand and crushes eggs, thus either killing hatchlings or making their emergence from the nest impossible. Driving may also create deep ruts that make it difficult for hatchlings to race to the water.
Remember to take all trash with you, even if it is litter left by someone else. Litter attracts scavengers that can trample on, confuse, startle or attack hatchlings, eat them or eggs. Litter can also injure nesting sea turtles or act as an obstacle to scrambling hatchlings.
We can do our simple part in helping these wonderful creatures by doing these simple steps of respect, staying a respectful distance, keeping all noise and light to a minimal, and most importantly keeping our beaches clean. This might not seem to be a lot but if people showed this respect then we can help ensure the future of sea turtles.