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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.


 “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.


Saving Sea Turtles

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

Photograph courtesy of Mike Liles

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.



The ES Act Works

The Endangered Species Act is one of the most successful environmental laws in U.S. history and is America’s primary tool for protecting biodiversity. Its purpose is to prevent the extinction of our most at-risk plants and animals, increase their numbers, and restore them to a full recovery. Currently, the Act protects more than 1,900 species.


Very few species have gone extinct once granted protection under the Act.

The longer a species is listed under the Act, the more likely it is to be recovering.

Species with “critical habitat” designation under the Act are twice as likely to recover than those without this designation.


Bald Eagle – increased from 416 to 9,789 pairs between 1963 and 2006

Whooping Crane – increased from 54 to 513 birds between 1967 and 2006

Kirtland’s Warbler – increased from 210 to 1,415 pairs between 1981 and 2005

Peregrine Falcon – increased from 324 to 1,700 pairs between 1975 and 2000

Gray Whale – increased from 13,000 to 26,635 whales between 1968 and 1998

Grizzly Bear – increased from 224 to 500+ bears between 1975 and 2005

Source: Center for Biological Diversity

May 18th is Endangered Species Day. What endangered species are you most passionate about saving?


Status Update

Hypnotizing isn’t he?  Meet the Siau Island tarsier, the newest animal species to be designated as critically endangered on International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species.  Inhabiting a small Indonesian island, this saucer-eyed primate has to keep its eyes on two big threats – an active volcano that could wipe our its habitat at any moment and islanders that have a keen taste for tarsiers (locals regularly serve “tola-tola” as a popular snack).  The Siau Island tarsier’s critically endangered status sounds an alarm…calling attention to the possibility to its imminent demise.

The world’s most comprehensive inventory of plant and animal conservation status, the Red List classifies species into seven categories, ranging from “least concern” to “extinct.”  As you can imagine there is a plethora of scientific data that goes into carefully  defining these categories – we’re talking endless pages of graphs, charts and confusing jargon.  Here’s my simple, layman’s language interpretation* of IUCN’s species categories.

*my status descriptions are in no way endorsed or approved by the smart volunteer force at IUCN. IUCN’s categories and criteria specs can be read in detail here.

LEAST CONCERN (LC) | Species in this category are widespread and abundant.  Let’s continue to take good care of these guys, everyone!

NEAR THREATENED (NT) | Watch out! Plant and animals included in this category are close to qualifying for a threatened category in the near future.

VULNERABLE (VU) | An observed or suspected population reduction means this species needs extreme care and support to protect it from becoming endangered.  Being vulnerable isn’t a good feeling, is it?

ENDANGERED (EN) | Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.  It is time to muster up compassion and action RIGHT NOW to save these species!

CRITICALLY ENDANGERED (CR) | A species’ numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations.

EXTINCT IN THE WILD (EW) | Sadly, these species can only be found in captivity or naturalized populations outside their natural range.

EXTINCT (EX) | No longer in existence.  Gone.  Forever.


Plant That Opened My Eyes

Did you ever notice that when it comes to spreading awareness about endangered species, animals get the lion’s share of the attention?  Most anyone can easily rattle off five threatened animal species…but can you name a plant species in need of protection?

My 5-year old can.  Armed with knowledgement about his current obsession, carnivorous plants, he informed me that his favorite plant (the oh-so-amazing Venus flytrap) was a threatened species and needed our protection.  He’s right.  As I learned more, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of species in need.

According to the Encyclopedia of Earth, over 8,000 plant species worldwide are officially threatened or endangered – and that number grows daily.  Between one-fourth and one-half of all plants are at some risk.  In the United States alone, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists 795 plant species as threatened or endangered.  A disturbing matter because plants provide essential, life sustaining ecosystems with oxygen, food, medicines, building materials, textiles and habitats.  Not to mention their beauty.

Just as it would be deplorable and tragic if, say, chimpanzees became extinct during our lifetime (a loss that is a real possibility, researchers warn), our world wouldn’t be the same without species like the black bat flower, monkey puzzle tree…or the Venus Flytrap.

My carnivorous plant-loving son with his purple pitcher plant, another threatened species.

Want to become famiiar with endangered plants in your area?  Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Threatened and Endangered List and select your state.


ARKive’s 10 Sleepy Species

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

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!


Be a Bird Nerd

Photo image by gareth1953 via Flickr Creative Commons

Bring your backyard to life

As I write, I am listening to the clear, fluted sound of a couple of Black-Capped Chickadees coupled with the metallic chirp of a Northern Cardinal.  It’s relaxing, entertaining and satisfying to the nature-lover in me to devote the backyard to the birds.  Habitat restoration is vital for wild birds and other wildlife due to commerical and residential infringement on natural areas.  Your backyard (or if space is limited – your balcony!) is one place where you can easily make a difference.  All you need to do is provide 4 basic elements:


You can help secure a food supply for birds by planting shrubs and trees that produce seeds, fruits, nuts and nectar.  This is a sure fire way to make your yard attractive to birds for years to come.  Here’s a list to give you planting ideas.  Bird feeders (seed, nectar, suet) make it super easy to provide a helping hand to the birds throughout the year.  Plus, you can position a feeder in a prime spot for bird watching.  Just be sure to place it near a tree or shrub – birds like cover from predators while feeding and a place to perch while waiting for a turn at the feeder.


Water is an important part of your backyard habitat.  A pedestal bird bath or shallow water dish placed at ground level will provide the necessary water for drinking and bathing.  Replace the water every few days to keep it fresh and clean.  Although this is a bit of extra work, it is well worth it.  A water source can dramatically increase the number and type of wild birds that visit your yard.  Plus it is totally entertaining to watch birds splash around in the water.  Be sure to place the bird bath where you can view it from indoors.  For more tips on supplying water, click here.


Shelter will turn your yard from a place where birds visit to a place where birds live.  Birds need places to hide from predators and the weather.  Plant evergreen trees and shrubs that provide year round cover.  Large rocks, stumps, ground cover and brush piles offer a welcome haven for ground feeding birds.


With more and more destruction of natural habitats, birds are having trouble finding nesting and roosting sites.  Bluebirds, purple martins and woodpeckers are struggling to find places to raise their young.  Go here to find specifications for birdhouses that will suit the birds you wish to attract.  You can put birdhouses up any time of the year; when not in use for nesting, many birds will use them for a place to sleep in cold weather.

Now that you’re a bird nerd…

Once you have your backyard habitat established, treat yourself to a field guide or mobile app (I use iBird) to help you learn about and identify your new feathered friends.  You can also participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count to help scientists create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent.  On Twitter?  Search #birdnerd to see what other bird watchers are tweeting.

Special thanks to my friend, Stephanie, a fellow bird nerd, for the post idea.

Which birds frequent YOUR backyard?  Let’s compare birding notes (include your State in the comment to make it more interesting)!


World Turtle Day

Better late than never

My mind is continously wrapped around chocolate and species conservation.  It’s my job and I love it.  And you’d THINK that I’d be totally keyed in to all the conservation-minded holidays out there – but they always sneak up on me.  Usually, I become aware of these obscure  observances the day after the fact.  Like World Water Day (March 22) and International Migratory Bird Day (May 14).  And wouldn’t you know it – World Turtle Day was May 23rd.  I’ve given up too many good writing ideas for fear of being untimely.  Watch me now as I bravely and belatedly post about World Turtle Day!

Soft spot for hard-shelled creatures

Turtles and tortoises have been around for more than 200 million years.  They obviously are creatures that are meant to stand the test of time.  However, over the past 20 years, almost 50% of all turtle species have been listed as threatened.  And six out of seven species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered.  Since learning these deporable facts, I aim to seek out ways to help.

SEE Turtles saves sea turtles

Combining conservation tourism and volunteerism, SEE Turtles works in Costa Rica, Baja California Sur and Trinidad – vital nessting habitats for endangered sea turtles – to support community-based turtle protection efforts.

You can get involved in a small, meaningful way by purchasing Endangered Species Chocolate’s Save the Sea Turtle Gift Pack.  Or you can go big and plan an adventure vacation with SEE Turtles and have a hands on sea turtle saving experience!

Be aware of baby turtles

The U.S. Humane Society urges people to beware of fairs, carnivals, flea markets and pet shops that sell baby turtles.  In 1975, FDA’s Public Health and Services Act banned the sale/distribution of turtles less than four inches in length.  Despite the ban, baby turtles continue to be sold – an illegal practice that is destructive to both turtles and humans.  A practice I recently witnessed at a tourist shop while on a beach getaway weekend.  You can bet when I return to the beach this month, I am going to be asking the store owner some hard questions and reporting them.  Click here to learn how to report these types of violations to the FDA.

Many turtle species are declining due to the pet trade.  Children often lose interest in pet animals obtained on impulse and parents may not be prepared to care for a turtle who can live for decades and grow to be a foot long.  Turtles need proper light and temperature, a water filtration system and room to grow.  Countless pet turtles die from being kept in inadequate conditions.

Humans, especially young children, are also put at risk by close contact with pet turtles.  A major Salmonella outbreak in 2007 that sickened 107 people (mostly children) in 37 states was attributed to pet turtles.

World Turtle Day

May is a busy time for turtles (yes, yes…I know it is now JUNE!).  Many have recently emerged from winter hibernation and are beginning their search for mates and nesting areas.  May 23rd was designated World Turtle Day in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue.  The day is used to highlight the threats to turtles’ survival and educate about what we can do to protect these quiet creatures.  Just like this post, caring and spreading the word is better late than never.

Share your turtle stories!  Join me in celebrating a belated World Turtle Day by commenting below.


Endangered Species Day

Mark your calendar.  Friday, May 20th marks the 6th year of national Endangered Species Day.  This day presents an opportunity to really focus on the importance of protecting plant and animal life.  From the downright adorable to the wonderfully weird, each species has a place and purpose on our planet.  Thousands of plant and animal species across the world are endangered and on the brink of extinction.  Over the years, the Endangered Species Act has provided a much needed helping hand to our natural neighbors.

America enacted the Endangered Species Act in 1973, one of dozens of U.S. environmental laws that were passed in the 1970s.  The Act was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction – to protect and nurture populations back to full health.  It is not a perfect law but it has been hugely successful to many species on the brink.  Critical habitats are given a fighting chance under the Act too.  Millions of acres of ancient forests, wild beaches, open meadows and sparkling rivers – treasured places that would have otherwise been long since logged out, paved over or built up had it not been for the Endangered Species Act.

Put endangered species and conservation groups in the forefront of your mind this month.  Extinction is forever.  Protecting our world’s disappearing wildlife and open spaces is a responsibility that needs our focus, compassion and action.

Which endangered species speaks to your heart the most?  Let us know by sharing the species you are most passionate about my commenting below.


Impact of Images

Have you happened across our new Endangered Species Chocolate ads yet?  You’d remember if you did because they are STELLAR! (Me, biased?  Never!)  The animal photography featured in our “Indulge in a Cause” ads was captured by the camera of Eric Isselée.  We were not only drawn to the powerful presence of his images, we were also captivated by his philanthopic mission and compassionate approach.

Eric Isselée’s project, Life on White, aims to document Earth’s endangered animals and insects.  Over the past four years, his series of wildlife set against pure white backgrounds has grown to over 10,000 photos of over 450 animal species.  Images this special shine a spotlight on these species, thereby raising their public profile and ultimately, helping to ensure their conservation.   In addition to capturing images for future generations, Life on White donates generously to animal charities and sanctuaries.

Eric’s team travels worldwide to get their shots.  The team insists on the animals being photographed in their own environment (mostly sanctuaries and zoos) so animals don’t suffer any undue stress linked to transport or unknown environments.  You can watch for yourself by clicking on Life on White’s “Making Of…” videos.  Imagine patiently waiting 72+ hours for a peacock to strut his stuff for your lens.  Or clicking away as mischievous monkeys cavort across your portable white backdrop.

This work results in stunning photos that show each animal’s beauty, emotion and personality.  Images this vivid and artistic bond the viewer to the animal and create compassion.  We love supporting and sharing this work.

Name some of your favorite wildlife/conservation photographers.  Have you ever photographed wildlife – what challenges did you face?  Share what inspires you visually by commenting below.