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Dec
4

To: Nature | From: You

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Why not put the planet on your gift-giving list this season? Here are 3 conservation organizations we know and trust to fight for at-risk species and habitats!

Send support to the sea

SEETurtle Holiday Gift Pack

Make a year-end $110.00 donation to SEE Turtles and receive a gift bag filled with ocean-friendly loot to commemorate your generosity!

SEE Turtles supports community-based sea turtle conservation projects worldwide. Your donation will help protect 100 baby turtle hatchlings.

The ULTIMATE TURTLE LOVERS’ GIFT PACK includes:

  • 3 Endangered Species Chocolate bars
  • 18oz. Klean Kanteen bottle
  • Organic goat milk soap ‘Cause Bar’
  • Sea turtle garden flag
  • Koteli reusable shopping bag
  • Glass Dharma glass drinking straw
  • 3 baby sea turtle postcards

Get your gift that gives back direct from SEE Turtles and The Ocean Foundation.

For the bees (and other pollinators)…

xercesOur 10% GiveBack Partner, The Xerces Society, is at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists to implement conservation programs.

Join The Xerces Society in combating unnecessary pesticide use and advocating for pollinators. Make a year-end donation to The Xerces Society – you’ll receive a bi-annual subscription to Wings: Essays on Invertebrate Conservation to keep you informed of your donation at work!

Go in on a joint gift with Betty White!

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Elephants have a secret weapon against poachers – Betty White! Join the Golden Girl in a quest to protect African wildlife by making a donation to our 10% GiveBack Partner, African Wildlife Foundation. Ms. White will double your gift when you give before December 20th.

Act now and double AWF’s resources to fight to save Africa’s rare and precious wildlife! With your donation you’ll receive

  • 16-month calendar with stunning African wildlife photography
  • AWF’s quarterly newsletter
  • The pride that you are making a difference for Africa’s wildlife, wild lands and community.

Chocolate Gifts Supporting Species

Want to combine a charitable donation with indulgent chocolate? We can help with that!

Pick one of our AWFliongiftAWF ADOPTION CHOCOLATE COLLECTIONS.

African Wildlife Foundation works to support 80+ species every day. We’ve paired their purpose with Endangered Species Chocolate bars for gifts that give back in a big way.

Your AWF Adoption Collection purchases send a $15, $25 or $40 donation to African Wildlife Foundation and gives you a delicious chocolate assortment, cute plush animal, and a 1-year AWF e-membership – all wrapped up in a great gift box.

 

SAVE THE SEA TURTLES GIFT PACK
Save sea turtles and savor chocolate! With this purchase, a $10 donation is made to SEE Turtles, a conservation tourism project that supports seeturtle giftcommunity-based sea turtle protection efforts.

Your purchase supports work in Costa Rica, Baja California Sur and Trinidad – vital nesting habitats for endangered sea turtles. Each pack bundles three 3oz. Natural Dark Chocolate with Blueberries chocolate bars with a card acknowledging your SEE Turtles donation.

What a sweet gift (that gives back)!

 

 


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.

Oct
3

GMO Impact on Wildlife

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October is Non-GMO Month – a great time to mull over myths and truths about genetically modified organisms so you can make an informed choice…for your health and the health of the planet. What are the impacts of GMOs on the environment? Over 80% of all GMOs are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of herbicides has increased 15x since GMOs were introduced – herbicides that persist in the environment and harm wildlife. There are also GMO crops that produce a Bt toxin insecticide which may harm non-target insect populations such as butterflies and beneficial pest predators. The long-term inpact of GMOs are unknown, and once released into the environment these engineered organisms cannot be recalled.

We believer Mother Nature knows best. That’s why we source Non-GMO Project Verified ingredients for our chocolate. Look for in-store displays during October and celebrate your right to make an informed choice about the foods you eat.

-Sources: Non-GMO Project | Learn More , GMO Myths and Truths, and Non-GMO Project Communications Toolkit

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Look for our Non-GMO Project Verified Natural Chocolate Halloween Treats on store shelves in October!

And find Endangered Species Chocolate in store displays throughout Non-GMO Month

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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.

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May
15

Endangered Species Day

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This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, one of the most successful environmental laws in U.S. history. Friday, May 17, 2013 is the 8th annual Endangered Species Day – a day to spread awareness of species at-risk and to share success stories of species that have recovered. Join us in raising awareness!

  • Attend an Endangered Specie Day event. Find one here!
  • Spread the word on social media. Mention @savespecies in a tweet to help Endangered Species Coalition gain supporters (be sure to hashtag #ESDay). Or share a wildlife message with your Facebook friends (include @Endangered Species Coalition in your post so they can see your support).
  • Learn about conservation efforts in your state! U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s interactive map can help you discover which species are being protected in your area.
  • Use Endangered Species Coalition’s 10 Things You Can Do list to make simple changes that can have a big impact on species conservation.

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!

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Feb
28

The Xerces Society

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When we announced The Xerces Society as one of our 2013-2015 10% GiveBack Partners, we were well-educated about their work. What we didn’t know was how incredibly passionate their supporters are! Since our commitment to donate 10% of our annual net profits to The Xerces Society, we have received countless emails and phone calls from members, thanking us. Their passion is infectious; my interest, piqued!

So, Xerces Society, what’s with the name?

This conservation non-profit is named after the Xerces Blue, an extinct species of butterfly. The Xerces Blue is believed to be the first American butterfly species to become extinct as a result of loss of habitat caused by urban development.

Bring back the pollinators!

Want to help bees, butterflies and other animals that help pollinate our planet? The Xerces Society’s Bring Back the Pollinators Campaign works with four simple principles that will easily turn your backyard into a place where pollinators can thrive! Become an expert at attracting beneficial insects to your landscape with the help of Xerces Society’s book, Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies.

Why their work is vital…

Of the more than one million species of animals in the world, 94 percent are invertebrates. They pollinate, spread seeds, recycle nutrients, and are a food source for wildlife. Without them – whole ecosystems would collapse. But these little guys are often overlooked with decisions are made about environmental policy and land management. The Xerces Society speaks up on their behalf through advocacy, policy, education and applied research.

Become a member of The Xerces Society.  We promise – you’ll be in good company

Jan
28

SEE the WILD: Last Refuge

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Main image courtesy of Mike Liles. All other photos via 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.

The Last Refuge

A wide beach on a warm clear evening may be the most relaxing setting on earth. We weren’t likely to come across any nesting turtles on this beautiful evening in the far northwest corner of Nicaragua (the tides weren’t right), but we didn’t mind. The soft sound of surf provided a soundtrack for the brightest Milky Way I’ve seen in years. Just being out on the sand was enough entertainment. But we didn’t travel 10 hours by bus from El Salvador for a tranquil beach walk.

We came to Padre Ramos Estuary because it is home one of the world’s most inspiring sea turtle conservation projects. Our motley group of international sea turtle experts was there as part of a research expedition to study and protect one of the world’s most endangered turtle populations, the Eastern Pacific hawksbill sea turtle. Led by the Nicaraguan staff of Fauna & Flora International (FFI, an international conservation group) and carried out with support from the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (known as ICAPO), this turtle project protects one of only two major nesting areas for this population (the other is El Salvador’s Jiquilisco Bay). This project depends on the participation of local residents; a committee of 18 local non-profit organizations, community groups, local governments, and more.

The coastal road leading into the town of Padre Ramos felt like many other spots along Central America’s Pacific coast. Small cabinas line the beach, allowing surfers a place to spend a few hours out of the water each night. Tourism has barely touched the main town however and the stares of the local kids hinted that gringos are not yet a common sight walking around town.

After arriving at our cabinas, I grabbed my camera and took a walk through town. A late afternoon soccer game competed with swimming in the cool water for the favorite pastime of the residents. I walked out to the beach as the sun set and followed it north to the mouth of the estuary, which curls around the town. The flattened crater of the Cosigüina volcano overlooks the bay and several islands.

The next day, fully rested, we set off early in two boats to try to catch a male hawksbill in the water. Most of the turtles studied in this region have been females easily caught on the beach after nesting. We spotted a hawksbill alongside an island called Isla Tigra, directly in front of the Venecia Peninsula, and the team sprung into action, one person hopping out of the boat with the tail end of the net while the boat swung around in a large semicircle, the net spreading out behind the boat. Once the boat reached the shoreline, everyone hopped out to help pull in the two ends of the net, unfortunately empty.

Despite our poor luck at catching turtles in the water, the team was able to capture the three turtles we needed for the satellite tagging research event. We brought one turtle from Venecia, which is located across the bay from the town of Padre Ramos, to involve members of the community who participate with the project in the satellite tagging event. Little is known about these turtles, but satellite transmitters have been part of a groundbreaking research study that has changed how scientists view the life history of this species. One finding that surprised many turtle experts was the fact that these hawksbills prefer to live in mangrove estuaries; up till then most believed they almost exclusively lived in coral reefs.

A few dozen people gathered around as our team worked to clean the turtle’s shell of algae and barnacles. Next, we sanded the shell to provide a rough surface on which to glue the transmitter. After that, we covered a large area of the carapace with layers of epoxy to ensure a tight fit. Once we attached the transmitter, a piece of protective pvc tubing was placed around the antenna to protect it from roots and other debris that might knock the antenna loose. The final step was to paint a layer of anti-fouling paint to prevent algae growth.

Next, we headed back to Venecia to put two more transmitters on turtles near the project hatchery, where hawksbill eggs are brought from around the estuary to be protected until they hatch and then are released. The tireless efforts of several local “careyeros” (the Spanish term for people who work with the hawksbill, known as “carey”) was rewarded with the opportunity to work with cutting edge technology on this important scientific study. Their pride in their work was obvious in their smiles as they watched the two turtles make their way to the water once the transmitters were attached.

Turtle conservation in Padre Ramos is more than just attaching electronics to their shells. Most of the work is done by the careyeros under the cover of darkness, driving their boats throughout the estuary looking for nesting hawksbills. Once one is found, they call the project staff who attach a metal ID tag to the turtles’ flippers and measure the length and width of their shells. The careyeros then bring the eggs to the hatchery and earn their pay depending on how many eggs they find and how many hatchlings emerge from the nest.

It was only a couple of years ago that these same men sold these eggs illegally, pocketing a few dollars per nest to give men unconfident in their libido an extra boost. Now, most of these eggs are protected; last season more than 90% of the eggs were protected and more than 10,000 hatchlings made it safely to the water through the work of FFI, ICAPO, and their partners. These turtles still face several threats in the Padre Ramos Estuary and throughout their range. Locally, one of their biggest threats is from the rapid expansion of shrimp farms into the mangroves.

One of the tools that FFI and ICAPO hope to use to protect these turtles is to bring volunteers and ecotourists to this beautiful spot. A new volunteer program offers budding biologists the opportunity to spend a week to a few months working with the local team to manage the hatchery, collect data on the turtles, and help to educate the community about why it’s important to protect these turtles. For tourists, there is no shortage of ways to fill both days and nights, from surfing, swimming, participating in walks on the nesting beach, hiking, and kayaking.

On my final morning in Padre Ramos, I woke up early to be a tourist, hiring a guide to take me on a kayaking excursion through the mangrove forest. My guide and I paddled across a wide channel and up through increasingly narrow waterways that challenged my limited ability to navigate. Halfway through, we stopped at a spot and walked up a small hill with a panoramic view of the area.

From above, the estuary, which is protected as a natural reserve, looked remarkably intact. The one obvious blemish was a large rectangular shrimp farm that stood out from the smooth curves of the natural waterways. Most of the world’s shrimp is now produced this way, grown in developing countries with few regulations to protect the mangrove forests that many creatures depend upon. While crossing the wide channel on the to return trip to town, a small turtle head popped up out of the water to take a breath about 30 feet in front of me. I like to think it was saying “hasta luego”, until I’m able to return again to this magical out of the way corner of Nicaragua.

Want to get involved?

Visit FFI to learn more about Nicaragua’s key species, leatherback, hawksbill and olive ridley sea turtles.

Volunteer with this project!  Help local researchers manage the hatcheries, tag turtles, and release hatchlings. The cost is $45/day which includes food and lodging.

Make a donation here. SEE Turtles supports this work through donations, helping to recuit volunteers and educating people about threats sea turtles face. Every dollar donated saves 2 hawksbill hatchlings!

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.

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.

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