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.
“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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Did you know that 6 out of 7 species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered? Sadly, they face many dangers as they travel the seas – including accidental capture in fishing gear, loss of nesting and feeding sites, intentional hunting (poaching) and ocean pollution.
Follow our guest blogger, Brad Nahill, Director and Co-Founder of conservation non-profit SEEtheWILD, as he sets off to make a difference! His journey has him teamed up with some of the world’s leading conservationists to learn all they can about sea turtles and the threats they face. Gathering new knowledge is vital in determining the best course of action to save these endangered creatures of the sea.
From the Field: Travels to El Salvador and Nicaragua
Summer in Portland, Oregon is wonderful. Warm sunny days blend gradually into crisp nights even at the height of summer, a perfect climate to explore the Columbia Gorge, Mt. Hood, and the Oregon Coast. So why am I giving up two weeks of my hometown’s best weather to visit the hot, rainy, and buggy coastal areas of El Salvador and Nicaragua?
When you get the opportunity to tag along with some of the world’s leading turtle conservationists to put satellite tags on possibly the planet’s most endangered sea turtles, you say yes and start looking at airfares. Over ten days, I will travel with a small, diverse group of people to visit four key sea turtle habitats in two countries. We will put transmitters on turtles at three of the sites, attend turtle festivals, and meet local residents working to support conservation programs.
Despite having worked in sea turtle conservation for most of the past decade, this trip will be a series of firsts for me. First time working with transmitters, first time to both of these countries, and the next wild hawksbill I see will only be the second of my career. I will be sharing these experiences with blog posts, images, and more in the hopes of educating people about the threats that sea turtles face in this region and how people can participate in their conservation.
A few of the inspiring people I’ll be meeting up with include Alex & Ingrid Gaos, the driving force behind the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, one of the most hopeful turtle conservation stories out there; Jose Urteaga of Flora and Fauna International, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and one of Nicaragua’s leaders in turtle conservation; and Dr. Jeff Seminoff, director of Marine Turtle Research at the National Marine Fisheries Service of NOAA. Others include Randall Arauz, recent winner of the prestigious Goldman Prize and founder of Pretoma, a leading wildlife organization in Costa Rica; Enriqueta Ramirez, founder of VivAzul and one of El Salvador’s leading young turtle conservationists; and Liza Gonzalez, current Nicaragua Director for Paso Pacifico and former director of the Nicaragua protected area system.
Some researchers believe the hawksbill turtles of this region are the most endangered in the world. A network of people are working to bring these turtles back from the brink while at the same time providing opportunities for improving the lives of coastal residents near turtle hotspots. I’ll be writing about how these hawksbills have chosen mangroves over coral reefs (unlike the rest of their species around the world) and about innovative programs that are providing optimism for the future of turtles in the region. I hope you will join me on this exploration to learn about one of the world’s most charismatic and endangered animals.
…to be continued.
Read the next post from Brad’s conservation trip, On a Mission.
Brad Nahill 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.
5 Ways That You Can Help Protect the Ocean
World Ocean Day is June 8th and what better way to celebrate than by helping to protect the ocean and the creatures that call it home? Most of the news we hear these days about the ocean is bad; giant islands of trash, sharks being killed for their fins, and more. But there is still hope to save the oceans and everyone can help no matter how far you live from a coast.
1. USE LESS PLASTIC
Many people have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch out north of Hawaii; not many people know that all five of the world’s oceans have currents (called “gyres”) that collect plastic waste. This waste endangers sea turtles, birds, seals, and other wildlife.
How to help: First, avoid plastic whenever possible. You can support local bans on plastic bags (congratulations, Los Angeles)) and take the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Pledge to refuse disposable plastic. You can also volunteer in the International Coastal Cleanup and help keep trash out of the oceans.
2. EAT LESS FISH OR MORE SUSTAINABLE FISH
Many of the world’s major fish stocks are overfished and collapsing. This is more than a food issue; these fish make the marine food web survive and many coastal communities depend on the industry. The good news is that there are alternatives for those who don’t want to completely give up seafood.
How to help: First, avoid the most damaging seafood such as shrimp. In some places, fishermen catch up to 10 lbs. of other fish and animals for every pound of shrimp. Also, print out a Seafood Watch Guide or download their smart phone app that tells you which fish are being caught sustainably and which ones can have high levels of toxins.
3. USE YOUR VOICE (OR YOUR EMAIL)
There are many opportunities to speak up for ocean conservation. For example, you can participate in the Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s campaign to enforce the use of turtle excluder devises on shrimp boats in Louisiana by emailing your Senator. You can also speak up for a strong National Ocean Policy here.
4. VOLUNTEER WITH A SEA TURTLE CONSERVATION PROJECT
Ever wanted to see what the life of a marine biologist is like? Our SEE Turtles project helps connect volunteers with sea turtle conservation programs in Latin America at no charge. Patrol a turtle nesting beach, helping measure and tag sea turtles and move their eggs to a protected hatchery. Volunteers pay from $15-50 per day for food and lodging, which is a critical source of income for many small projects.
5. TAKE AN OCEAN WILDLIFE CONSERVATION TOUR
SEEtheWILD is the world’s first non-profit wildlife conservation travel project and our website promotes tours where you can get up close to ocean wildlife including sea turtles, sharks, and whales. Every trip benefits conservation programs through donations, education, and volunteer opportunities.
BONUS ACTION: SHARE A BLUE MARBLE
The Blue Marbles Project is a simple experiment in showing gratitude for the ocean. Millions of these marbles are passing around the planet, from hand to hand. The premise is simple, give a marble to someone doing good things for the ocean. Pick up some marbles here and share the stories of the people you give them to on Facebook.
– Brad Nahill
Guest blogger, Brad Nahill is Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD, a wildlife conservation travel project. He launched SEE Turtles, a sea turtle conservation travel project with Dr. Wallace J. Nichols that has generated more than $300,000 in support for community-based turtle conservation projects in Latin America.
ARKive.org: Bringing endangered species to life
Hello, We’re ARKive, the world’s only centralized digital library home to thousands of images and films of globally threatened species. We’ve partnered up with Endangered Species Chocolate’s Involved blog to give you a glimpse into the world of ARKive and the amazing imagery and facts you can find on the planet’s rarest species. From the diving feats of the osprey to the tiny baby thorny devil, you can learn about these species and over 13,000 more on ARKive.
Since any reader of this blog likely has a sweet tooth, we thought we’d highlight some of the sleepiest critters on ARKive who could have definitely used a few Endangered Species Chocolate bars to stay awake…let’s see if you’re not yawning by the end of it!
ARKive’s Top Ten Sleepiest Species
One Wiped Out Fellow! I would be tired too if I were capable of impressive diving feats like the Gentoo penguin who can pursue prey up to 170 meters or 500 feet deep down in the ocean.
A Sweet Sleeper. Although taking a moment to catch up on some sleep here, the arctic fox is usually always on the search for food and amazingly, can reduce its metabolism by half, while still being active, to help conserve energy while on the hunt.
Sprawled Out Slumber. It’s well known that most bears hibernate through the winter months but sometimes it’s worth a reminder how truly unique this process is. Once brown bears enter their hibernation period, they don’t eat, drink, urinate or defecate for up to six months! Could you imagine not getting out of bed for anything for 6 months?
Chameleons Catch Forty Winks It seems as though Parson’s chameleons start off as sleepy critters. With one of the longest incubation periods in the reptile world, it takes a whopping 20 months for a Parson’s chameleon egg to hatch. I guess if I had a nice safe place to sleep, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to hatch either!
Down for the Count. It’s not surprising to catch all these big cats sleeping in the middle of the day. Lions are inactive 20 out of 24 hours a day and reserve their energy for the cool and darker times of day, such as sunrise and sunset, to hunt.
Submerged Snoozer. Manatees need to come up for air approximately every 20 minutes or less, making them the top napping species on the list. Since manatees never leave the water, they don’t experience long periods of slumber like humans and so frequent, short bouts of sleep while resting on the ocean floor are enough for them.
Daytime Dozer. Although most owls are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night and mostly inactive during the day, the little owl is actually diurnal and prefers to do most of its hunting during the day. This little owl, however, seels to have taken the opportunity to catch a few winks before bedtime.
Curled Up to Catch Zzzs… The dormouse is such a sleepy creature that its name is thought to derive from the French word ‘dormir’ meaning ‘to sleep.’ When ready to begin hibernation, which can last up to 7 months, the dormouse enters a state of extreme torpor where its body processes slow to a fraction of their normal rate.
Cat-napping Koala. Another sleepy species, the koala spends a vast majority of its time snoozing away and even when awake, it’s a very sedentary species. you’ll find koalas often catching Z’s while balancing on branches in trees well out of harm’s way.
What a Yawn! Although extinct, we still know some very interesting facts about this species and that while it yawned, the Thylacine could open its jaw wider than any mammal on the planet. Are you yawning yet?
We hope you enjoyed this introduction to endangered species on ARKive. To come face-to-face with more endangered species around the world, visit ARKive today!
Meet Natalie Patton, winner of Endangered Species Chocolate/Whole Foods Market’s ‘Indulge in a Cause’ photo contest. Natalia offered to guest blog and share her experience of seeking out and selecting the receipient of the contest’s grand prize $5,000 donation. Her passion is contagious!
I’ve wondered it, I can promise you have too and wouldn’t we all just like to know? I mean, just exactly how many chocolate bars qualify as a years worth of chocolate? Like you, I was not entirely sure, but it peaked my interest enough to submit a photograph to the Endangered Species Chocolate and Whole Foods photo contest. Because let’s face it, chocolate is quite the compelling force. And $5,000 to go toward my favorite environmentally focused non-profit? Say no more! Submission here I come.
A patch of green in a concrete jungle
I find myself in a squished, but comfortable apartment with my childhood best friend. We live in the midst of a concrete jungle of white cement and bricks smeared with dirt and soot reusing to leave any space un-smogged. If you came for a short visit, the tour would be incredilby short lived, since you can see it all by standing in the entrance. So instead, I would direct your attention outside. I would tempt you to wander up to the roof of our apartment building and tell you to keep wandering around to the back corner. Because in that back corner there is a little color, curve and life in the midst of great gray and squareness.
And it is precisely that back corner that intrigued my lens one afternoon. The submitted photo is of my friend doing a little weeding of our roof-top garden. It’s not much, but we are becoming quite attached to our tomato, pepper and strawberry plants.
Indulge in a cause (getting involved and asking questions)
Thanks to my roommate’s web-surfing, some persuasive encouragement, Endangered Species Chocolate and Whole Foods, and some serious voting from the world of Facebook, I found myself, only a few short days after submitting my roof-top garden photo, sitting with an email in my inbox telling me the news: my photo had won the contest. As I sat staring at the email, I realized I had an incredible opportunity at my finger tips. Yes, of course the years supply of chocolate, but the donation?
As a recent college grad, this amount of money seemed extraordinarily astronomical, but that’s probably because the only people seeing any of my income with significant digits (or any multiple zeros with commas) is the US government – thanks student loans. Needless to say, this sum of money seemed to possess great potential for good.
So where to begin? How can one begin to narrow down all the wonderfully worthy environmentally focused non-profits out there? And how does one go about giving away money? Which non-profit would use it best? How can one be sure the money will be spent wisely and efficiently?
Now, I should tell you, I know what it’s like to be one of the many voices advocating for the important work done day in and day out at a non-profit. I know the feelings that possess the gut when seeking to form the proper words for writing that one grant; when every ounce of energy dripping with the deepest depths of sincerity, believing beyond passionately that this organization should receive that money. Those feelings are familiar.
I had never been the one with the money. At least, not until last week.
Embracing a Passion: Urban Gardening Efforts
So…where to begin? Food is important to both my friend and I. The growing of food, to the fair treatment and pay to the farmers who grew the food, to the proper respect given to the land from where the food was grown – all of these things I care deeply about. So immediately, we knew that if our photo won the contest, we would choose to have the money go toward sustainable urban gardening efforts.
Now I am a born and bred Mid-west, Minnesota native. Raised just outside the city center hub of Minneapolis, St. Paul. I knew immediately that I wanted the money to go to a local grassroots organization located within the city.
After some digging and emails to various non-profit directors, Youth Farm and Market Program caught and held me and my friend’s attention. Their main goal is to empower kids through the process of growing food in several urban gardens.
Youth Farm and Market Program (YFMP) is about connecting locally produced food to the neighborhood communities from wich it was grown. They are about educating youth, living in urban neighborhoods, in gardening, nutrition and entrepreneurship skills. By seeing this young and growing generation and what ideas and dreams they have to offer their communities. YFMP is empowering young voices to be advocates and leaders within their own communities.
Since YFMP is such a community based organization, the Executive Director, Gunnar Linden, confidently assured that every dollar of the donation would go directly toward achieving said goal of growing food as a medium to develop youth in the community. Whether that be supporting the costs of adding two new neighborhood gardens this summer or supporting Powderhorn Project LEAD where youth are taking part in paid internships, or finally being able to buy that truck they’ve been needing. All options are signs of exciting growth of a great organization.
There is a video of YFMP in action on their website. I encourage you to watch this video, particularly the last interview with a wee girl, because she says it best. When asked why she came back for another year of youth Farm Camp, her gentle, whispered response is, “Because, it was like te funnest summer I ever had.”
But don’t take my word for it. Learn more about the great and inspiring work they are doing on their website. Visit www.youthfarm.net.
To Endangered Species Chocolate and Whole Foods – thank you for this incredible opportunity. To Youth Farm and Market Program – keep working, learning, growing and empowering. Your work is important. To the rest of you – if you are still curious about what a year’s worth of chocolate might look like…check out the evidence.
‘Involved’ asks: What criteria do you consider when choosing to donate to a non-profit? Are there any tools you find helpful to narrow down selections for your donations? How does giving make you feel? Share thoughts and ideas by commenting below.