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Sep
17

Sea Otter Awareness Week

By Guest Blogger  //  Species in Need.  //  No Comments

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 ”We must hold to the irreplaceables, to the species delicately interbalanced, to the endangered and threatened animals, to the sanctity of life here on our shores”

–Margaret Owings, Founder, Friends of the Sea Otter.

This year, Friends of the Sea Otter celebrates its 46th year of sea otter conservation and the twelfth anniversary of Sea Otter Awareness Week.  Throughout the history of the organization, Friends of the Sea Otter has dealt with many critical issues facing sea otters on their road to population recovery.  Now is no different.

In a couple of weeks, the U.S. Geological Survey will release the results of the Spring 2014 California sea otter census.  Last year, the news was encouraging and gives us some hope about the future recovery of this population.  The 3-year average (population index) in 2013 was listed as 2,941 sea otters.  This was an increase in the average from the previous year’s population index. As we eagerly await the results for 2014, we realize that there is still much work to be done.

We’re still struggling to understand how disease, shark attacks, food limitations and other threats have kept this charismatic marine mammal on the brink over the last three and a half decades.

The saga involving the legal battles to eliminate the No Otter Zone in Southern California continue.  The No Otter Zone is an impediment to sea otter recovery. For decades, Friends of the Sea Otter and others have fought to rid the California coastline of this road block,that is keeping sea otters from returning to historic habitat in Southern California.  A coalition of fishing groups, represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, filed a lawsuit last year against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the lawsuit aims to uphold the decades old No-Otter Zone. Their lawsuit challenges the elimination of the No Otter Zone that was finalized in January of 2013 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Friends of the Sea Otter along with colleague organizations, all represented by Earthjustice, filed a motion to intervene on the lawsuit on August 12, 2013. This was granted on October 2, 2013.  On October 23, 2013, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked the court to throw out the case based on the theory that the fishing groups were challenging the 1987 regulation that set up the No Otter Zone in the first place, and the legal time period for filing such a challenge has passed.   On March 27, 2014, the court ruled in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s favor and dismissed the case.  The fishing groups appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  If the Ninth Circuit rules in the fishing industry’s favor, the case will be sent back to the district court to decide the central issue of whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had the authority to end the No Otter Zone.  We are tracking the situation while we wait for the Ninth Circuit decision and stand ready to fight, along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to ensure that the government is not forced to revive the failed No Otter Zone and translocation program.

Friends of the Sea Otter continues to monitor the battle up north. The state of Alaska, its fishing industry, and elected officials have been trying to turn back the clock on marine mammal conservation more than 40 years by advocating for the management of sea otters. How are they suggesting they do this? Their answer: by killing sea otters for the sake of small commercial interest groups.

FSO_mom_baby_seaotter_TuceyAll sea otters are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This makes it illegal to hunt a sea otter or sell any products made from the body of a sea otter, Native Alaskans are permitted to do so, however. In this case, they must sufficiently alter a sea otter pelt into some kind of traditional artifact or handicraft before selling anything made from a sea otter. It is currently illegal for anyone, including Alaskan Natives, to sell unaltered sea otter pelts to non-Alaskan Natives.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had a proposal last year to clarify some terms under the MMPA and Friends of the Sea Otter is focusing on their clarification of “significantly altered”. The proposed revised definition for “significantly altered” raised some serious concerns.  The definition of “significantly altered” is too broad and at odds with the MMPA and is being conducted without any environmental impact analysis. It isn’t as restrictive as it needs to be and could potentially result in blankets and rugs being made from sea otter pelts without “significantly altering” the pelt as is the intention of the MMPA. This would be devastating for sea otters and increase the market for their pelts.

While U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared in their final documents last year that this exercise of clarifying definitions is in no way a means to allow predator control of sea otter populations in Southeast Alaska, Friends of the Sea Otter is monitoring this closely.  Through a grant, we are planning some outreach to native communities, hunters, fishers, and others to remind them about the laws that exist and that sea otters can not be hunted as a means to ease conflicts with fisheries.

With all of these emerging issues, it is even more important to highlight the need to protect and conserve sea otter populations. Sea Otter Awareness Week once again shines the big spotlight on the need for everyone to understand the plight of this species and help where you can.  Friends of the Sea Otter continues to do our part.  Please help us help sea otters!

You can follow Friends of the Sea Otter on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheseaotter ) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/#!/friendsseaotter ) and learn more about what Friends of the Sea Otter is doing and how you can help at http://www.seaotters.org

Article by guest blogger, Jim Curland, Advocacy Program Director and Frank Reynolds, Program Manager for Friends of the Sea Otter

Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO), founded in 1968, is an advocacy group dedicated to actively working with state and federal agencies, scientists, educators, and the public to maintain, increase and broaden the current protections for the sea otter, a species currently protected by state and federal laws and having two populations on the Endangered Species list.

Mar
18

Lots About Lemurs

By Guest Blogger  //  Species in Need.  //  No Comments

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lemur_main__50378_zoomExperts at Lemur Conservation Foundation helped us get our facts straight for the animal info-graphic found inside our Endangered Species Chocolate Coconut Creme Filled Bar. But…you can only fit so many lemur facts inside a chocolate wrapper! Our friends at Lemur Conservation Foundation offered up this broader picture of this highly social, super smart species.

 

Guest post via Catherine Olteanu, Communications and Development at Lemur Conservation Foundation

Ring-tailed lemur Species

Ring-tailed lemurs were first mentioned in western literature around 1625 in Samuel Purchas’s popular ‘Pilgrimages’ or travel logs.  In his writing Purchas describes ring-tailed lemurs as being about the size of a monkey with a face like a fox and having a long tail with black and white rings.   Carl Linnaeus might have been familiar with Purchas’s work, and with the 1729 journal of Robert Drury, an English sailor shipwrecked on Madagascar for fifteen years. Drury’s journal is one of the oldest written accounts of life in southern Madagascar, the home of the Ring-tailed lemur.

Linnaeus looked to the works of Ovid and Virgil for the term ‘Lemur’ and its reference to ‘Lemuria,’ a Roman festival during which ghosts were exorcised.  It is descriptive of some lemurs’ nocturnal habits, noiseless movements, reflective eyes, and ghost like cries and appearance.  Today lemurs are known as ‘ghosts of the forest.’ 

LEMUR 50 I Gunilla DSC_0058ps

photo courtesy of Lemur Conservation Foundation

Lemurs, found only on the island of Madagascar, are some of the most unique and the most endangered animals in the world.  Scientists theorize that they arrived in Madagascar as a result of rare rafting or swimming events that brought them to the island from the African continent.  Once in Madagascar they evolved in ecosystems that rival the Amazon basin in biodiversity.  Among

the 103 species of lemurs only the Ring-tailed lemurs is classified as its own genus. It is the type species for the genus of ‘Lemur.’ 

Known scientifically as Lemur catta, and as ’Maki’ or ‘Hira’ in the Malagasy language, they are highly adaptable with a range

covering a large portion of southern Madagascar’s diverse geography. They breed successfully in captivity. Despite their success as a species ring-tailed lemurs, like virtually all of Madagascar’s species of lemurs, face severe challenges to their survival. The 2012 assessment of Madagascar’s fauna by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature documented 91% of lemur species as ‘Critically Endangered,’ ‘Endangered,’ or ‘Vulnerable.’ 

According to Dr. Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chairperson of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group, lemurs are the most threatened primate on earth. Ring-tailed lemurs are listed as ‘Near Threatened,’ with declining wild populations and habitat that is shrinking faster than any other in Madagascar.  As we observe Ring-tailed lemurs in their natural habitats we can learn what they need to survive as a species and how we can better manage precious resources.

Physical Characteristics

Adult lemur catta are about the size of a house cat which is relatively large for lemurs. They weigh approximately six pounds, and have an average body length of seventeen inches, not including their tails.  Their lower incisors form a ‘tooth comb’ which is used in their oral grooming behaviors. They also have a ‘toilet claw,’ a specialized claw on their second toe that is used to groom fur that cannot be reached for oral grooming. Their long slender frames and narrow faces are covered with dense fur that is white on their chest and throat and grey to dark grey-brown on their backs. 

LEMUR 50 I Gunilla DSC_0269ps

photo courtesy of Lemur Conservation Foundation

Beneath their fur ring-tailed lemurs have black skin which is visible on their palms, the soles of their feet, and around the throat where their fur is less dense than on their backs and chest.  Their skin is leathery with dermal ridges on their hands and feet. The dermal ridges, common to all primates, help improve grip and facilitate terrestrial movement.  Their feet are more specialized that their hands with an opposable big toe instead of an opposable thumb.  Ring-tails have feet more adapted to terrestrial movement compared to other lemurs that spend all of their lives in the forest canopy.

The ring-tailed lemur’s distinctive bushy, ‘balancing tails’ that are about twenty-four inches long with alternating black and white bands giving them their distinctive look and popular name.  Tails have twelve or thirteen white bands and thirteen to fourteen black bands, and always e

nd in a black tip.  Ring-tailed lemurs use their tails used to help stabilize their movements in the forest canopy unlike some

primates who use their tails for gripping branches. They also use their tails for communication, and group cohesion. 

Distribution

Ring-tailed lemurs are endemic to the south and southwestern regions of Madagascar.  They have adapted to a variety of habitats from deciduous forests, montane humid forests, scrub, and gallery forests.  Although their distribution is quite wide across southern Madagascar and its variety of habitats today they are only found in a few special protected areas. Their population density varies, often dramatically.

Within their habitats ring-tailed lemurs live in ‘troops’ that average 13 to 15 individuals, although troops of up to 30 have been documented.  A troop needs between 15 to 85 acres of ‘home range’ territory.  Things like troop size, population density and the size of a troop’s home range area vary with the availability of food.

Ring-tailed lemur troops usually stay in a section of their home range for up to four days before moving.  After a few days in one location a troop will move a little more than a half mile inside their home range. 

Diet

The ring-tailed lemur is an omnivore and survives on a varied diet.  They range widely and feed opportunistically form a variety of plants, insects, and the occasional small vertebrate prey.

The leaves and fruit of the tamarind tree can provide up to fifty percent of a wild ring-tailed lemur’s diet along with available fruits, leaves, flowers, herbs, bark, sap, and have been observed eating pollens.

The forests where ring-tailed lemurs live does not have continuous vegetation and they must frequently travel on the ground as they move and forage for food. As they travel the ring-tail’s diet becomes more opportunistic, especially during the dry season.

Behavior

Ring-tailed lemurs are diurnal, with activity taking place both in the day and in the night. Because they live in the desert they take advantage of cooler temperatures after dark. Their troops have a well-defined female hierarchy with a dominant alpha female. Females are usually dominant over males but there is competition among the females for the alpha female position.

LEMUR 50 Nicole Begley Catta on Branch

photo courtesy of Lemur Conservation Foundation

Females live in the same group all of their lives.  Young male ring-tailed lemurs migrate to a new group when they are 3 to 5 years old.  When they leave their natal group they often travel in pair or groups of three to search for and successfully integrate into a new troop.  If they are successful at finding a new troop they challenge the resident males for access to the females for breeding. 

Their challenges include a unique behavior called ‘stink fighting.’ Ring-tailed males use their wrist and shoulder glands to mark their tails then shake them at the other males.  During breeding season they might also engage in ‘jump fighting,’ a more violent and aggressive behavior than stink fighting.

Both male and female ring-tailed lemurs use scent marking to note the edges of their troop’s home range.  Territorial disputes can occur when ring-tailed groups meet at home range boundaries. The dominant female defends the troop’s home range with behaviors like staring, lunging, and occasionally physical aggression. These encounters resolve with members of the troops moving toward the center of their home range.

Ring-tailed lemur vocalization range from the simple to the complex and can have transitions and variations in the calls. Some sounds are used to alert the troop to predators, infant distress, to mark location, and express contentment and range from meows and purring to clicks, yaps, moans, wails, squeaks and screams.  You can listen to ring-tailed lemur calls here.

Their tails are also used as a form of communication.  Members of a troop hold their tails high in the air while traveling to act as distance signals, keeping the troop together, and as a presence signal, warning other groups to stay away.

Like all lemurs lemur catta engage in the iconic ‘Sun Worshiping’ posture. Females, offspring, and males all sit very still with straight backs and arms stretched out to their sides. This typical morning behavior allows maximum exposure of the chest and stomach to the sun allowing them to warm themselves quickly after a cold night.

Reproduction

Lemur catta females usually give birth first at three years of age and then produce offspring annually.  Ma

ting begins in mid-April and lasts only a few weeks.  Infants are born in August and September after a gestation period of about 135 days.

Single infants are most common but twins are frequent when food is plentiful. The ring-tailed infants cling to their mother’s abdomen for about two weeks.  Then they ride on her back in the ‘jockey-style’ position.  Ring-tail babies grow very quickly. By four weeks of age they are ready to leave their mother and begin exploring their environment.

Females with offspring form a very tight social unit.  They will interact and travel together as well as share babysitting duties, feed & sleep together.  Females and offspring huddle together facing inward with their tails intertwined and held over each other’s back and shoulder forming a tight circle or ‘lemur ball.’ The ‘sleep formation’ is only shared by females and offspring. Mature males sleep on their own. The sleep formation is unique to ring-tailed lemurs. 

LEMUR ring tail 1

photo courtesy of Lemur Conservation Foundation

Threats

The biggest threat to ring-tailed lemurs is habitat loss from encroachment and slash and burn agriculture. Madagascar’s southern forests, the lemur catta’s only wild home, are sparse and easily cleared with even the simplest methods or tools for agriculture and other uses.  Satellite images of Madagascar suggest that their habitat is disappearing faster than any other on the island.  This encroachment is a significant reason for their ‘near threatened’ status on the IUCN Red List.

Responsible Viewing

Be sensitive to local customs and taboos that often involve animals and vary from place to place.

Most parks have ‘circuits’ of varying lengths and corresponding degrees of difficulty. Do not deviate from the routes or engage wildlife. Do not smoke in the forests. Stay on the trails and do not litter. Most areas require a guide.

Do not feed lemurs anywhere that you see them, whether in the forest or in resort or restaurant areas. Feeding can provoke aggression among the lemurs and also towards you. 

Never try to pick up a lemur, and warn children not to try to touch or pick up the animals.  Wild lemurs might approach you but they bite if they are frightened.

Where to View

You can view the ring-tailed lemur at several special protected reserves and in five of Madagascar’s national parks. The national parks in the ring-tail lemurs’ habitat are Andohahela National Park, Andgingitra National Park, Isalo national Park, Tsimananampetsotse National park, and Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. 

LEMUR 1 I Gunilla

photo courtesy of Lemur Conservation Foundation

Madagascar National Parks & Special Reserves

Information about most of the parks and special reserves for watching lemur catta in the wild can be found at the Parcs Madagascar web site. A URL is included for private reserves like Berenty and Anja.

Madagascar’s national parks system was founded in 1990 as a management and conservation initiative for the country’s unique, rare, and often endangered flora and fauna.   There are 12 parks and special reserves in the ring-tails’ habitat. 

Special reserves like the Beza-Mehafaly Special Reserve, Kalambatritra Special Reserve, Ivohibe Special Reserve (part of the Madagascar national Parks system), the Berenty Special Reserve, and the Anja Community Reserve are popular viewing locations and offer unique experiences. Communities like Anja develop opportunities for visitors to come and enjoy Madagascar’s unique flora and fauna. Fees from visitors often are the major source of funding for the reserves.

Anja Community Reserve  

The Anja Community Reserve became a protected area in 1999. It covers 30 hectares and is known for its dense population of ring-tail lemurs.

‘Anja Reserve is the most visited community managed forest and ecotourist site in Madagascar. Anja has become a vital example of how community management of natural resources can both effectively protect the area and benefit the community.’

Berenty Reserve  

Berenty is a small private reserve situated among gallery forest on the Mandrake River.  This semi-arid eco-region in the far south of Madagascar includes spiny forest habitat.  It is a base for students and professional conservationists as well as visitors who want to see lemurs and other wildlife in their native habitat.

The reserve is a two hour drive from Tolangnaro, on the southeast cost of Madagascar. Accommodations are in the forest and there is a network of trails to enjoy.  Berenty the most visitors of any Madagascar nature reserve.

Beza Mahafaly

Beza Mahafaly has a large population of lemur catta as well as several other species of lemurs.  Research is also carried out at this special reserve by several international research organizations. You might see some lemurs with telemetry collars.

The reserve is in the South Western part of the island 35 kilo meters northeast of Betioky. Covering 600 hectares, Beza Mahafaly is the second smallest special protected area in the Madagascar national parks system.  

Ivohibe 

The ‘Peak of Ivohibe’ special protected area is in the south east of Madagascar and connects to Andringitra National Park by a 20 kilo meter forest corridor.  The mountain peak is 2060 meters in elevation.

photo courtesy of Lemur Conservation Foundation

photo courtesy of Lemur Conservation Foundation

Andgingitra National Park 

Andgingitra is known for its rough terrain including Mount Imarivolanitra with an elevation of 2658 m (8,720 ft.) as well as deep valleys and ridges. It is well known for its biodiversity and high concentration of endemic species. Over 200 species of animals are endemic to Andgingitra National Park.

Andohahela National Park 

Andohahela, in south east Madagascar, is the only protected area with both dense and humid forests. The Tropic of Capricorn crosses the park. Its unique geographic location connects the southern and eastern eco-regions.

Isalo National Park

Isalo is the most visited park in Madagascar. It is part of the Commune of Ranohira in the Ihorombe region. The park covers 81,540 hectares.  Significant landscape features include river furrows and a massive continental sandstone plateau dating from the Jurassic Period.

Tsimananampetsotse National Park

Tsimanampesotse is in the southwest part of Madagascar. It is among the original 10 reserves created in 1927, more than seventy years before the modern Madagascar National Parks system was adopted, and 6 years before Madagascar signed the 1933 London International Convention for the protection of fauna and flora in Africa. Tsimanampesotse has a unique saturated sulphate lake. 75 to 90% of its fauna and flora found here are endemic to the park.

Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. 

Zombitse Vohibasia is located in the southwest area of Madagascar.  While it is well known for its rare birds, Zombitse is also home to 8 species of lemurs, including ring-tails. 

The park covers 36,308 hectares organized into 3 parcels that include the forest of Zombitse as well as Vohibasia and Isoky special areas.

The Lemur Conservation Foundation

The Lemur Conservation Foundation, a 200 acre private reserve located in Myakka City, Florida, holds six species of lemurs, including ring-tails. Our free ranging colony lives in native forests in multi species groups much like they do in Madagascar.  We are dedicated to the conservation and preservation of lemurs through captive breeding, education, art, observation based research, and partnerships.  LCF is a managing member of The Madagascar Fauna Group and two species survival plans, including the SSP for lemur catta.

Feb
11

CA, Tax Time, Sea Otters

By Guest Blogger  //  Species in Need.  //  No Comments

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Photo credit: Cindy Tucey, landscape and wildlife photographer

It’s that time of the year…Tax Season. While sea otters don’t pay taxes, we can help them when we pay ours.  Since 2007, sea otters in California have benefited from over $2 million in taxpayer contributions that go towards efforts to protect and recover sea otters in California. This funding is critical because currently there is no other funding source for sea otter research and conservation efforts in California.

Each year the California Franchise Tax Board sets a minimum amount needed for each check off to meet in order for the Fund to appear on tax forms in the following year. This year the California Sea Otter Fund needs to reach $277,666.

So, please help sea otters in California during this tax season. They are dependent on any contribution you can make.  Just seek out line 410 on your California Tax income form and give as little as $1. 

2012 Form 540 -- California Resident Income Tax Return

You can find out more information on the California Sea Otter Fund and how the money has been used in the past by clicking here.  Spread the word to your California tax-paying friends that they can help sea otters too.  Thanks!

Article by guest blogger, Jim Curland, Advocacy Program Director, Friends of the Sea Otter

Friends of the Sea Otter, founded in 1968, is an advocacy group dedicated to actively working with state and federal agencies, scientists, educators, and the public to maintain, increase and broaden the current protections for the sea otter, a species currently protected by state and federal laws and having two populations on the Endangered Species list.

 

Dec
17

A Sea Otter Christmas

By Guest Blogger  //  Species in Need.  //  No Comments

blog_feature_sept13There are several opportunities to help contribute to conserving sea otters and their populations this holiday season! Friends of the Sea Otter is involved in these efforts to make giving during the holidays a “win-win” situation for sea otters.

Monterey County Gives Campaign

The Monterey County Gives campaign during this holiday season runs from mid-November through midnight December 31 and is a way to stretch your donation further through a portion of your contribution getting matched by the Community Foundation of Monterey partnering with the Monterey County Weekly for this campaign.

 

Thanks to the matching fund, your donation can have a bigger impact to Friends of the Sea Otter and to helping protect sea otters and their habitat. Click here to view our donation page.

 

Amazon Smile

Using Amazon for your holiday shopping? Want to help protect sea otters for no extra charge while purchasing gifts?

Amazon will donate 0.5% of purchases to an organization of your choice. Please remember Friends of the Sea Otter when filling your Holiday baskets by choosing us when you visit: https://smile.amazon.com/

 

Friends of the Sea Otter Holiday Gift Store

Share a Gift and Help Sea Otters! Friends of the Sea Otter is the world’s oldest sea otter organization dedicated to conserving sea otters and their habitats. Your purchase in the gift store will be used in support of Friends of the Sea Otter’s efforts to protect sea otters and their habitat in a number of ways. You can buy individual gifts or purchase our gift bundles as a membership package. We have a select number of bundles, each with their own unique gifts. Your donation will go towards Friends of the Sea Otter’s mission to conserve sea otters and their habitat. If you would like to make a donation, but would not like to receive a gift please use the donate button at the top.

calendar notecards-300x193

 

Zazzle Store

If you are looking to buy someone that special gift for the holidays, there are a variety of items in Friends of the Sea Otter’s Zazzle Storefront.  Many of the items were designed using specially made artwork by Kelly Lance, done exclusively for Friends of the Sea Otter. And, if you are still decorating the Christmas tree, be sure and check out the Christmas ornament in the store.  A percentage of your purchase in our Zazzle Storefront will go towards Friends of the Sea Otter’s mission to conserve sea otters and their habitat.

You can follow FSO on Facebook and Twitter and learn more about what FSO is doing and how you can help at www.seaotters.org.

Article by guest blogger, Jim Curland, Advocacy Program Director and Frank Reynolds, Program Manager for Friends of the Sea Otter

Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO), founded in 1968, is an advocacy group dedicated to actively working with state and federal agencies, scientists, educators, and the public to maintain, increase and broaden the current protections for the sea otter, a species currently protected by state and federal laws and having two populations on the Endangered Species list.

Nov
4

Tourism + Sharks

By Guest Blogger  //  Species in Need.  //  No Comments

BradShark

Dead or Alive: The Promise of Tourism For Shark Conservation

When many people hear the words “shark” and “tourism” in the same sentence, the first thing they think of is how to avoid them. Unfortunately these people are missing the opportunity to witness and learn about one of nature’s truly astounding creatures. While shark attacks are real and many movies and media outlets capitalize on this fear (see Channel, Discovery), there are common sense ways to avoid danger and have a great experience while contributing to shark conservation efforts.

The real predator

According to the conservation group Oceana, an average of 4 people per year were killed by sharks and only 3 fatal attacks in the US from 2006 – 2010 (out of 179 total). Beachgoers are more than 3 times more likely to drown than to die from a shark attack. Compare that to the more than 25 million sharks killed by humans each year, and it becomes clear who is more dangerous.

Sharks, as top predators, are critically important to the health of the ocean. One of the biggest issues why many shark species are endangered is due to the international trade in shark fins, used as a delicacy in shark fin soup, consumed primarily in Asia. According to Shark Advocates International, they are also valued for their meat, hides, teeth, and livers. Due to the facts that sharks grow slowly, take a long time to reproduce, and give birth to small numbers of offspring, these fish are especially susceptible to human threats.

Tourism as a conservation tool

One strategy to help protect and research sharks that is gaining popularity is ecotourism. A recent study of sharks around Costa Rica’s Cocos Island estimated the value of a hammerhead shark to tourism at US $1.6 million each, compared to just under $200 it could bring if sold. A 2011 study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science had an even more dramatic difference, estimating a lifetime value of nearly US $2 million dollars for a reef shark in Palau vs. only $108 for sale in a fish market. Governments are starting to take notice of this economic value; countries including Australia, Palau, and the Cook Islands have recently created large new marine protected areas to protect sharks and other ocean life.

While diving to see sharks has its abstract value, many tour operators and volunteer organizations are taking advantage of shark tourism to directly benefit conservation. SEEtheWILD partner Sea Turtle Restoration Project has a unique trip for divers to the Cocos Island where people can help to tag hammerheads as part of a research program. In Belize, Earthwatch Institute has a volunteer program in Belize to study shark populations and the value of marine protected areas.

Another way that travelers can support shark research is by participating in the Whale Shark Photo ID Library. Anyone with underwater photos of whale sharks can upload them to this website for identification, helping to build this important resource for conservation efforts. Finally, some shark trips generate donations for conservation efforts, including this whale shark trip to Isla Mujeres (Mexico).

Playing it safe

For those who get sweaty at the mention of sharks, there are many ways to keep yourself safe when in the water with sharks. The easiest way to do that is to swim with the least threatening of sharks, the whale sharks. Though these giant fish can be 40 feet long and weigh 20 tons, they don’t have teeth and are not aggressive to humans. Also, by remaining calm around sharks and keeping your distance, you can minimize the risk of being around these fascinating creatures. If you are diving or snorkeling in areas where sharks live, ask your guide about what to expect and what species to look out for.

SEEtheWILD’s Tips for Shark Conservation Tourism

Check out SEEtheWILD’s shark conservation tours and volunteer programs:

-Mexico Whale Sharks

-Whale sharks & turtles

-Belize shark research

-Undiscovered Belize

-Galapagos Adventure

-Cocos Island Shark & Turtle Research

  This blog post was written by Brad Nahill, Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD.

Brad Nahill is a wildlife conservationist, writer, activist, and fundraiser. He is the Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD, the world’s first non-profit wildife conservation travel website.  To date, we have generated more than $300,000 for wildlife conservation and local communities and our volunteers have completed more than 1,000 work shifts at sea turtle conservation project. SEEtheWILD is a project of The Ocean Foundation. Follow SEEtheWILD on Facebook or Twitter.

Sep
18

First of a Billion Steps

By Guest Blogger  //  Species in Need.  //  No Comments

Fundraising BBT

Six months ago, SEE Turtles launched the Billion Baby Turtles Initiative with a goal of 50,000 hatchlings saved in 2013. After just six months, we’re excited to announce that we’ve saved more than 100,000 hatchlings! To celebrate, we are launching of our first School Fundraiser Contest. School classes (and clubs) will compete to save the most hatchlings by raising money for turtle conservation programs.

 Winning classes will receive an Eco-Prize Pack that includes healthy snacks and green school supplies. One random teacher will win a spot on a sea turtle trip to Costa Rica and every class that raises at least $100 will earn prizes. Learn more about the contest and download a flyer to give to teachers here.

Contest sponsors include our lead partners Endangered Species Chocolate and Nature’s Path, as well as Klean Kanteen, who will match the first $1,000 in donations from schools and EcoTeach, who is providing the Costa Rica trip. Product sponsors that are providing free eco-friendly gifts for the winning classes are Koteli Bags, Zevia Natural Soda, SoyJoy, EcoLunchboxes, EVOL healthy burritos, Lundberg Family Farms, and Glass Dharma.

Every dollar raised through this contest will go to save at least one baby turtle at community-based conservation projects in Central America and Mexico. Billion Baby Turtles has now supported 9 conservation organizations working to save 4 species of sea turtles on 11 nesting beaches across Latin America.

One of the donations that help put us over the top is a close friend of SEE Turtles, Deborah Goldstein. Deborah is a member of our WildTribe, a trusted group of SEE Turtles advisors and ambassadors and won a contest last year to spend time at two turtle projects in Nicaragua that are supported by Billion Baby Turtles.

Deborah helped release hawksbill turtle hatchlings In Padre Ramos and then spent a week helping Paso Pacifico in La Flor Wildlife Refuge. “I have wanted to volunteer to save sea turtles for as long as I can remember,” said Deborah. “I had no idea how excited I’d be when I held my first hatchling. Or how happy I’d be to release hundreds of hatchlings in the estuary in Nicaragua. I felt like I was doing my part and I wanted to give back to the organization that helped make this opportunity possible.”

To help us reach a billion hatchlings saved, please visit BillionBabyTurtles.org.

 Guest blogger, Brad Nahill, is a wildlife conservationist, writer, activist, and fundraiser. He is the Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD, the world’s first non-profit wildife conservation travel website.  To date, we have generated more than $300,000 for wildlife conservation and local communities and our volunteers have completed more than 1,000 work shifts at sea turtle conservation project. SEEtheWILD is a project of The Ocean Foundation. Follow SEEtheWILD on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Sep
16

Friends of the Sea Otter

By Guest Blogger  //  Species in Need.  //  No Comments

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Sea Otters at a Crossroads

“We have learned that if we are to preserve a healthy population of these small animals, if the tap-tapping of the sea otter is to remain an inspiring motif along our shores, it will demand more than foresight. It will require vision.” –Margaret Owings, Founder, Friends of the Sea Otter.

This year Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO) celebrates its 45th year of sea otter conservation.  Throughout the history of the organization, FSO has dealt with many critical issues facing sea otters on their road to population recovery.  Now is no different.

California

In California, “The No Otter Zone” is the primary focus. This issue, a two and half decade  attempt to section a part of the ocean in southern California that excludes sea otters, is an ongoing effort.  In January 2013, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rendered a final decision to eliminate the “No-Otter Zone”, allowing sea otters to expand their range naturally into historically occupied waters they inhabited. This aims to help recover the population of sea otters in California.  Prior to this FWS decision, a team of expert scientists had concluded that sea otters need to expand their range naturally into these areas to recover the population and not jeopardize its future existence.

In July 2013, a coalition of fishing groups filed a lawsuit that seeks to challenge the decision to end the “No-Otter Zone”.  Friends of the Sea Otter, along with other conservation groups, and the representation of EarthJustice, have filed a motion to intervene in the case so that we may defend the decision by FWS.  Throughout the years, FSO has used the judicial system to uphold protections for sea otters.  And, we will do so again in order to protect sea otters.

Alaska

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photo by Cindy Tucey, Friends of the Sea Otter board member

Up north in Alaska, a very different situation is unfolding.  The state of Alaska, its fishing industry, and elected officials are trying to turn back the clock on marine mammal conservation more than 40 years by advocating for the management of sea otters. How are they suggesting they do this? Their answer: by killing sea otters for the sake of small commercial interest groups.  

All sea otters are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This makes it illegal to hunt a sea otter or sell any products made from the body of a sea otter, unless the sea otter is harvested by an Alaskan Native for subsistence purposes. Alaskan Natives must sufficiently alter a sea otter pelt into some kind of traditional artifact or handicraft before selling anything made from a sea otter. It is currently illegal for anyone, including Alaskan Natives, to sell unaltered sea otter pelts to non-Alaskan Natives.

FWS has a proposal to clarify some terms under the MMPA and Friends of the Sea Otter is focusing on their clarification of “significantly altered”. The proposed revised definition for “significantly altered” raises some serious concerns.  The definition of “significantly altered” is too broad and at odds with the MMPA and is being conducted without any environmental impact analysis. It isn’t as restrictive as it needs to be and could potentially result in blankets and rugs being made from sea otter pelts without “significantly altering” the pelt as is the intention of the MMPA. This would be devastating for sea otters.

In addition, this revision of the definition for “significantly altered” is being carried out under the pressure from fishing groups, who are under the impression that the sea otter population in Southeast Alaska is destroying fisheries.  Equal pressure is mounting from state elected officials and the federal Alaska delegation to do something about a “growing” sea otter population.  Open season on sea otters in Southeast Alaska could greatly impact the species and set a disturbing precedent. It would allow an increase in the hunting of a wildlife species in an effort to manage and protect industry, which in this case would be fisheries.

Join Friends of the Sea Otter

This is a critical time in sea otter conservation. FSO is determined to take on these issues and ensure the protection of the sea otter at all costs so that the future of these populations is around for people to delight in.

You can follow FSO on Facebook and Twitter and learn more about what FSO is doing and how you can help at www.seaotters.org.

Article by guest blogger, Jim Curland, Advocacy Program Director and Frank Reynolds, Program Manager for Friends of the Sea Otter

Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO), founded in 1968, is an advocacy group dedicated to actively working with state and federal agencies, scientists, educators, and the public to maintain, increase and broaden the current protections for the sea otter, a species currently protected by state and federal laws and having two populations on the Endangered Species list.

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#OtterESC for Sea Otter Awareness Week

Love sea otters as much as we do? Join Endangered Species Chocolate on Twitter during Sea Otter Awareness Week (Sept 22-28, 2013) to help generate a donation for Friends of the Sea Otter! Each tweet containing the image below and hashtag #OtterESC adds $1 to Endangered Species Chocolate’s $500 donation goal.

otter_week

Mar
25

A Billion Baby Turtles

By Guest Blogger  //  Caring for the Environment., Species in Need.  //  No Comments

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Photo by Abigail Alling / Biosphere Foundation

Message from our friend, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, co-founder of SEETurtles, SEEtheWILD and LiVBLUE.

The seBillionBabyturtleslogoa turtles need your help! Six of the seven species of sea turtles are endangered and facing possible extinction. This week we’re kicking off Billion Baby Turtles, a project aimed at reversing this alarming trend and saving sea turtles.

Even if you don’t have time to read this entire post, please take a minute to visit, “like” and share our new Facebook page, where you can also enter to win an amazing prize pack of gear and goodies from sustainable brands including ENO Hammocks, Endangered Species Chocolate, Feelgoodz, Hydro Flask, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, Nature’s Path/EnviroKidz, Numi Tea, NUUN, Osprey Packs, prAna, and Tofurky. Enter here.

Now, a little bit more about the sea turtles and what we’re up to with Billion Baby Turtles…

If you’ve watched Animal Planet you know that odds are generally working against sea turtles.  From the moment an egg is deposited in a sandy nest on a tropical beach, to the first time a baby turtle touches the sea, to decades later when she returns as an adult to lay her own eggs on very same beach, life is an endless series of life-and-death challenges for a sea turtle.

Nature is stacked against survival, which is why a mother turtle lays thousands of eggs during her lifetime in order to simply replace herself. Predators include dozens of species of crabs, beetles, ants, birds, fish, and sharks. Jaguars, pigs, wild dogs, and raccoons are even on the list of turtle eaters.

For millions of years, sea turtles handled it all just fine.

Yet, when you add modern humans to the mix, the balance suddenly tipped towards oblivion. Over the past century all seven species of sea turtle and their eggs have been hunted, carved, and eaten to the point that many populations are considered vulnerable to extinction. Getting caught accidentally in fishing nets and on hooks just adds to their woes. Throw in plastic pollution, boat collisions, and runaway coastal development on their nesting beaches and you’ve got a situation requiring intervention on a global scale.

But this isn’t a bad news story. That’s because over the past several decades a massive global network of sea turtle scientists, advocates, conservationists, and even lawyers has evolved to work day and night to bring them back. These heroes have been literally working around the clock, saving one egg-—one baby turtle-—at a time. At other times they’ll invest months to rehabilitate a single adult animal before returning it to the ocean. Every turtle released into the ocean is a moment of joy for everyone involved. It never gets old.

SEEBillionBabyThink about it—while you sleep tonight, thousands of scientists, technicians and volunteers are saving sea turtles on the beaches of the world.

These projects are run on “Turtle Time.” Slow, steady, and tenacious wins the race. It takes as long as twenty-five years for a turtle to reach maturity, and return on that turtle-y kind of investment can come slowly. Turtle people are above all patient and hard working. Many projects have been steadily protecting turtles for more than thirty years. Their work is paying off. Some turtle populations are now on the rise after nose-diving to near extinction before that.

Photo by Neil Ever Osborne / SEEturtles.org

The Black Sea Turtle Project in Michoacan, Mexico celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this year and is experiencing its best season since its inception after watching the numbers of nesting female turtles bounce along the bottom of the graph for a decade.

Its sister project, Grupo Tortuguero, working to safeguard black turtles in feeding grounds a thousand miles away in Baja, is turning fifteen in January.

Turtle hunters and poachers in Mexico have had a change of heart and are now turtle protectors and guides. Everyone reports seeing more sea turtles in the ocean and on the beaches.

Now is not the time to let up, though. To get sea turtles back to their former abundance and to restore their ecological role in the ocean this is just half time.

We know exactly what to do. We just need to continue to execute the game plan.

Along with my friends Brad Nahill at SEEtheWILD and Fabien Cousteau at Plant a Fish, we came up with the idea of the Billion Baby Turtles, an initiative to help support groups working on the sea turtle front lines. To make a million more adult turtles we need a billion more baby turtles. It’s a one in a thousand situation out there, roughly speaking.

By creatively connecting individuals and small businesses with grassroots projects working to increase sea turtle production, we are helping overcome donor fatigue, burn out, and other second half challenges.

In the coming years we will collaborate widely to further expand the global sea turtle tribe, widen the base of donors through micro-philanthropy, and throw our support behind the men and women working for turtles on the front lines in their coastal communities around the world.

Forty years ago sea turtle pioneer, Dr. Archie Carr, described what it would take to save sea turtles.

 In the long run, marine turtles, like the seas themselves, will be saved only by wholehearted international cooperation at the government level. While waiting for it to materialize, the critical tactical needs seem to me to be three in number: more sanctuaries, more research, and a concerted effort by all impractical, visionary, starry-eyed, and anti-progressive organizations, all little old ladies in tennis shoes, and all persons able to see beyond the ends of their noses…

That is almost legendary substance.

While high-level official negotiations continue, and the large agencies and organizations fight for pro-ocean and pro-turtle policies, why don’t we all do our small part for sea turtles?

A billion baby sea turtles?

 Yes.

Why don’t YOU lead one to the water?

Join us on Facebook to Help Spread the Word About Billion Baby Turtles & Win Great Prizes.

SEETurtle_visit J 5.10Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols is a scientist, activist, community organizer, author and dad. He works to inspire a deeper connection with nature, sometimes simply by walking and talking, other times through writing or images. He is co-founder of SEE Turtles, SEEtheWILD, & LiVBLUE among other organizations.

 

Support Billion Baby Turtles Project…

…when you purchase an Endangered Species Chocolate Save the Sea Turtle Gift Pack. Each gift includes three sustainably sourced Dark Chocolate with Blueberries Bars and a $10 donation to Billion Baby Turtles, a gift that helps 10 turtle hatchlings get safely to the sea!

seeturtle gift

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct
30

Bay of Turtles

By Guest Blogger  //  Species in Need.  //  No Comments

All photos courtesy of Brad Nahill | SEEtheWILD

Follow our guest blogger, Brad Nahill, Director and Co-Founder of conservation non-profit SEEtheWILD, as he continues his mission to protect sea turtles  in El Salvador.

Bay of Turtles | Bahía de Jiquilisco, El Salvador

To arrive to a new place in the dark is like tasting a new food with a blindfold on. You can feel the edges, but a full color appreciation isn’t possible until daylight arrives. Night time in the small town of La Pirraya on an island in Jiquilisco Bay is quiet; the fishermen and their families gather in small compounds preparing the days catch and saving energy for an early rise the next day. But hiding outside the lights of the town is the beginning of a conservation movement that could save one of the world’s most endangered populations of ocean wildlife.

My arrival to Jiquilisco Bay in southern El Salvador started at the small port town of Puerto Parada. We waited for the boat to arrive on a small concrete dock at the end of the main road into town. There was little indication that we were on the edge of the largest wetland in the country other than the mangrove trees across the channel. The dark boat ride was punctuated by distant lightning that was more entertainment than threat. Once our group, an international team of sea turtle conservationists, was settled into our rustic cabins, our night began. We received word of hatchlings at a nearby hatchery and set off on a short boat ride up the beach.

The few dozen hatchlings in the blue bucket at the hatchery were the first newborn hawksbill turtles I’d ever seen. With a red flashlight to protect their eyes, we inspected this healthy group who were eager to get to the water. No sooner had we released them on the beach than we received a call of a nesting female hawksbill on a nearby island. We hopped back into the boat for another short ride across the calm water.

Hawksbills are well known for their preference for nesting much further up the beach, normally venturing into the beachside vegetation to lay their eggs. That knowledge didn’t prepare me for the location of this turtle, probably more than 50 feet inland on the other side of a barbed wire fence that was tall enough to keep people out but let turtles through underneath. That turtle was the perfect illustration of why this population remained hidden for so long; many turtle experts had considered the hawksbills of the Eastern Pacific functionally extinct until just a few years ago.

That turtle decided not to nest so a few of us broke off from the group to visit another hatchery where we waited for sunrise to inspect three hawksbills that were being held to put satellite transmitters on the next day. Along the way, we stopped the boat to see another hawksbill that was on another isolated stretch of beach. Finally, we arrived at the hatchery with an hour or so left in the evening. I stole off to find a hammock and was asleep before I could even take off my sandals.

I wish I could accurately describe my first impressions of Jiquilisco Bay in the daylight but after the long night, I was so disoriented my vision was pretty blurred. Stumbling out of the hammock, I walked over to a four-foot deep hole where three large hawksbills were calmly waiting to be released. These turtles were much larger (their shells measured about 3 feet long) than the one small hawksbill I had worked with years before in Costa Rica; if I didn’t know better I would have thought they were a different species. In addition, there were more hatchlings to release.

Our visit to Jiquilisco was organized by ICAPO (The Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative) and these turtles are part of an ongoing study looking to unlock the mysterious life cycles of these turtles. There are estimated to be fewer than 500 nesting females hawksbills left in their range, which goes from southern Baja California, Mexico to Peru. Until recently, researchers assumed that hawksbills only lived in and around coral reefs, of which there are relatively few along the Pacific coast of the Americas. However, research by ICAPO and their partners has shown that these turtles live primarily in mangroves, a fact that surprised many turtle experts.

Jiquilisco Bay is estimated to harbor nearly half of their nests and most of the rest are found in Padre Ramos Estuary, not far south in northern Nicaragua. Through the hard work of several organizations working in these two hotspots, there is a growing group of people working hard to ensure these turtles are around for a long time. ICAPO and its partners coordinate a local team of 75 residents, known as “careyeros” (carey is Spanish for hawksbill) who patrol key beaches around the bay, looking for nesting turtles and relocating their eggs to hatcheries.

Once I finished photographing these turtles and headed out to the beach, the incredible beauty of this area hit me full force. Across the water, a series of perfectly shaped volcanoes rose up over the bay. As the baby turtles slid into the water, the human residents of Jiquilisco were just getting started. Fishing boats crossed the water, heading to preferred spots in the brightening day.

As we arrived back to La Pirraya, the town was in full swing, preparing for their annual hawksbill festival, complete with parade, dignitaries, throngs of media, and more. The parade got off to a loud start with the Navy’s marching band and a parade of more than a hundred local students. The students held home made signs about protecting turtles and keeping trash out of the ocean and a few wore turtle costumes despite the quickly rising temperature.

While I was pleasantly surprised at the large turnout to the festival, the sheer number of media outlets in attendance was shocking. Roughly 30 people from seemingly every media outlet in the country was there including TV news, radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and more. Many citizens of El Salvador are proud of its role in protecting hawksbills and the mix of cutting-edge technology, international turtle experts, and beautiful children was a potent combination that media outlets could not ignore.

Many of the students stood outside a canopy, looking over the shoulders of the researchers to catch a glimpse of the turtles being prepared for attaching the transmitters. It took more than an hour to clean and sand down the shells, place several layers of epoxy around the transmitter, and allow them to dry. Once completed, the turtles were taken to the water and released. The crowds were kept back to give the turtles room and once they had their bearings, they went directly to the cool water.

I wish this story could have a neat and tidy ending with the turtles heading off into the water, their transmitters providing valuable information for years to come. However, less than a week later I got word that one of the hawksbills was already found dead. The likely culprit was blast fishing, a barbaric practice where fishermen use homemade bombs to kill everything in their range of impact.

That news was a reminder that, despite a tremendous amount of progress studying and protecting Jiquilisco’s turtles over the past few years, there is still a lot of work to do. The first order of business is to ensure that the bay receives protection; there are currently no regulations in place for this spectacular wildlife hotspot. ICAPO is hoping to guarantee protection of the critical hawksbill habitat, namely the 50 meter fridges along the primary nesting beaches as well as all the waters within the estuary. These actions by the government of El Salvador are the minimum necessary to give hawksbills the best shot at survival in the eastern Pacific.

SEE Turtles is supporting this work by raising funds to help pay for the egg collection. Last year, we donated more than $5,000 and hope to exceed that this year.

Want to get involved?

Make a donation to save the Hawksbills.  For every $1 donated, we save 2 hawksbill hatchlings!

Join  ICAPO’s volunteer programs in Jiquilisco Bay.

Sign up for an EcoViva conservation trip to Jiquilisco Bay (November 11-17, 2012).

 

Begin at the beginning! Read Brad’s first post from this conservation trip, Saving Sea Turtles.

Brad Nahill is a wildlife conservationist, writer, activist, and fundraiser. He is the Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD, the world’s first non-profit wildife conservation travel website.  To date, we have generated more than $300,000 for wildlife conservation and local communities and our volunteers have completed more than 1,000 work shifts at sea turtle conservation project. SEEtheWILD is a project of The Ocean Foundation. Follow SEEtheWILD on Facebook or Twitter.

Sep
25

SEEtheWILD On a Mission

By Guest Blogger  //  Species in Need.  //  No Comments

Photo by MyFWCmedia via Flickr Creative Commons

Follow our guest blogger, Brad Nahill, Director and Co-Founder of conservation non-profit SEEtheWILD, as he continues his mission to protect sea turtles  in El Salvador.

Toluca

 “Possessing, selling, and consuming sea turtles is illegal in El Salvador,” states Enriqueta Ramirez in Spanish. “We are not interested in buying turtle eggs from you; we want to collaborate with you to protect sea turtles.” With these strong statements, Enriqueta is confronting a challenging history; a young female conservationist trying to change the paradigm of a male dominated culture of turtle egg exploitation.

Enriqueta’s audience is a group of about 50 turtle egg collectors, almost exclusively men, ranging from about 15 to 60 years of age. These men listen respectfully for the most part; its clear who is in charge of this meeting. The dynamic young leader of ViVAZUL, one of El Salvador’s leading turtle conservation organizations, controls the purse strings at this conservation project. Her organization (the Spanish translation of “Live Blue”) works with professional egg collectors to protect turtle eggs at three local hatcheries, where the eggs are protected until they hatch.

ViVAZUL is among the most effective turtle organizations in the country; with funding from Fabien Cousteau’s organization Plant A Fish, VivAzul has helped to save more than 400,000 hatchlings in its two years of existence. I have come to visit this olive ridley nesting beach in the small coastal village of Toluca on El Salvador’s central coast with Enriqueta to learn how turtle conservation is working in this small Central American country.

Toluca is not a town you’ll find on the map. Few tourists come to see the turtles or relax on its sandy beach. The 40 families here live in small compounds stretched out along the coast, with walls of bamboo marking the property of each family. The town’s kids know how to enjoy the benefits of ocean front living, swimming playfully in the surf as a pastel sunset plays out over the coastal hills to the northwest.

Enriqueta first visited Toluca a decade ago as a young graduate student. Back then, before the sale of turtle eggs was banned, the most that conservationists could do was to request that egg collectors donate a dozen eggs per nest (roughly 10% of an average nest) to the hatchery. In February 2009, the government of El Salvador announced a veda, a ban on the consumption, sale, and possession of turtles, their eggs, and turtle products) in conjunction with a project funded by US Agency for International Development (USAID) to purchase turtle eggs from local residents who collect them.

As an emergency measure, the new law has been successful. Over the past two years, roughly 80% of the turtle eggs in the country have been protected (about 1.5 millions eggs protected per year). However, Enriqueta and other turtle experts believe the egg purchasing program will not be sustainable over the long-term. Much of the money for the program has come from US AID funding, which will run out in two years. To get started on what to do after 2014, a group of leading organizations is working together to craft plans to replace the funds from other sources and invest in environmental education.

After Enriqueta finished explaining how a new system of ID’s would work during this nesting season, she methodically took the picture of all of the participants with her new iPhone. Quickly the tortugueros settled into groups, playing cards and smoking cigarettes. Enriqueta and I took advantage of the down time to interview a number of the men.

The prevailing wisdom of turtle conservationists in the country is that collecting turtle eggs is a primarily economic activity; as long as the money can be replaced, the eggs will be protected. Enriqueta, however, believes that there are social factors at work. When asked to describe what its like to meet up every night to go “turtling”, the guys used words like “pastime” and “sport”.

I’ve gone out to patrol on turtle nesting beaches more than 100 times but walking the beach at Toluca was a very different experience. I’m used to the mostly deserted beaches of Costa Rica where researchers control the beach and poachers avoid confrontations. Here in El Salvador, the tortugueros stake out their position along the beach, spaced out every 50 feet or so, standing on the water’s edge like sentries awaiting a beach landing. We didn’t see any turtles this early in the season, but the walk was as much of a learning experience as any beach patrol I’ve ever done.

Without programs like this one, nearly every turtle egg in El Salvador would be consumed. The country has roughly 4,000 tortugueros, spread out along every major nesting beach in the country. For most of these people, primarily men, the money earned from selling the eggs (either to a hatchery or the black market) is supplemental but can be a significant portion of their income. One nest of 140 eggs brings in $25, more than 10 percent of the average monthly income in this area.

With people still getting used to the ban on consuming eggs, the large number of people earning income from turtling, and one of Latin America’s highest levels of poverty, saving sea turtles in El Salvador is a complicated task. Fortunately for these turtles, Enriqueta has learned to skillfully negotiate between government officials, international funders, and the local group of tortugueros. Under her strong presence, most of the hatchlings of Toluca will make their way to safely back into the water.

Read Brad’s 1st post from this conservation trip, Saving Sea Turtles.

VivAzul is looking for volunteers to help with their hatcheries. Toluca is the kind of place where a volunteer with medium to high Spanish skills and the ability to adapt to a fairly challenging living situation will thrive. Minimum two-week commitment is required. Costs range from $20-25 per day for lodging and meals. To request information on this program, visit the SEE Turtles website.  You can also reach ViVAZUL on their Facebook page or via email, info@vivazul.org.sv.

Brad Nahill is a wildlife conservationist, writer, activist, and fundraiser. He is the Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD, the world’s first non-profit wildlife conservation travel website. To date, we have generated more than $300,000 for wildlife conservation and local communities and our volunteers have completed more than 1,000 work shifts at sea turtle conservation project. SEEtheWILD is a project of The Ocean Foundation. Follow SEEtheWILD on Facebook or Twitter.

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