By Silvia Sanchez Bor, September 1, 2016
Last month, hundreds of female sea turtles left the safety of the sea to lay thousands of eggs along Ecuador’s coast. Park rangers in the Pacoche marine protected area (MPA) have begun patrolling miles of beaches to identify, protect and tag nests with educational materials to prevent predation.
Sea turtles play an important role in a healthy marine and coastal ecosystem. They also generate more than $1 million in tourism annually for local communities in Ecuador. Yet sea turtle nesting sites face threats from predators and human hunting, decreasing endangered sea turtles’ chances of survival. They are also at risk from commercial fisheries, which kill as many as 450,000 sea turtles annually that get caught on the lines or swallow baited hooks.
With an estimated 1% survival rate in the wild, sea turtle hatchlings can use all the help they can get to make their way to the ocean. Home to four sea turtle species (Green Turtles, Leatherbacks, Olive-Ridley, and Hawksbill sea turtles), Ecuador’s coastal MPAs are an important site for sea turtle conservation.
Park rangers educating children on the importance of sea turtle conservation
In 2015, WildAid worked with Pacoche park rangers to protect 302 Olive-Ridley nests. We achieved a 63% survival rate with 189 nests that hatched. About 15,000 Olive-Ridley hatchlings made their way to the sea. As part of the project, we educated over 1,000 students from 13 local communities on the importance of sea turtle conservation. The combination of environmental education and beach patrols helped deter poachers and inadvertent damage to the nests.
Our sea turtle conservation project in Pacoche is part of a three-year project to reduce illegal fishing and strengthen protection for marine animals in Ecuador. The plan combats illegal fishing, including long-line and trawl fishing, that threatens endangered species such as sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins. We are implementing the plan at six priority MPAs: Machalilla, Santa Clara, Pacoche, Santa Elena, El Morro and Galera. In addition to the successes of the sea turtle monitoring program in Pacoche, WildAid has accomplished the following results over the past year:
- Developed a practical control and vigilance strategy for each site;
- Procured basic surveillance equipment and established regular patrols for improved detection and interception;
- Developed and delivered comprehensive training workshops for Park Rangers;
- Established a vessel maintenance system; and
- Collaborated with an artisanal fishing collaborative in Machalilla to increase support for the MPA.
- Looking forward, we will focus on the following project activities in Ecuador in 2016:
- Installing high power surveillance cameras and AIS (radio-based monitoring equipment) base stations at Machalilla and Santa Clara MPAs;
- Strengthening Park compliance capacity via systematic training and the provision of supplemental funding for regular MPA enforcement operations; and
- Continuing sea turtle conservation efforts.
WildAid has helped decrease illegal fishing and increase protection for endangered sea turtles on Ecuador’s coast since 2014. We truly appreciate the support of the Sandler Foundation, Conservation International, the Overbrook Foundation and our other donors on this project.