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Central America

Seeing Turtles Right

Sea turtles are notoriously mobile, but they still need a patch of land to call their own, a place where they can build a nest and then a family. For five of the seven species of sea turtles, those homes are often located on the Pacific or Caribbean shores of Central America.

But each of those five sea turtle species is either threatened or endangered. And the dangers that confront their habitat have profound impacts on sea turtles, which return to their birthplaces to breed.

That’s why The Nature Conservancy protects marine habitats throughout Central America that shelter sea turtles as well as a plethora of other threatened and endangered species. In Panama and Costa Rica, our science-based marine conservation initiatives are making key strides in protecting sea turtle habitat.

The endangered Green sea turtle has also found a safe haven in Indonesia thanks to a joint program between The Nature Conservancy and WWF-Indonesia. Explore more epic road trips taken by sea turtles!

Pushed to the Brink

The loggerhead, hawksbill, olive ridley, green sea turtles and leatherbacks that live in the waters anchoring the Central American isthmus face danger on every front.

They are hunted for their shells and meat, their fragile eggs are sold as aphrodisiacs, they often find themselves caught in nets and fishing hooks as bycatch due to unsustainable fishing practices and their nesting grounds are being demolished to make way for tourism development.

Add to these challenges the fact that underwater habitats are becoming as endangered as the sea turtles they support. Scientists have found that the cozy coral reefs where sea turtles swim, eat and grow into adulthood are imperiled by the rising temperatures of the world’s oceans. Turtles are rapidly running out of safe places to live and reproduce.

In Panama, the Conservancy is gathering data on coral reefs and underwater communities. That information is crucial to determining habitat health and devising the most effective strategies for preserving the ecosystems on which turtles and local communities depend.

More Protection than Just a Shell

Zoning plans developed by the Conservancy and our local partners in the Panamanian Caribbean and Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula address threats from coastal development projects that infringe on key sea turtle breeding grounds. These plans complement conservation strategies to ensure responsible infrastructure development and the safety of local species.

In Costa Rica, the Conservancy provides ongoing support for partners managing coastal protected areas, who in turn are protecting the beaches that are critical to sea turtle reproduction.

That list of partners includes organizations such as Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas and the Osa Sea Turtle Conservation Program, the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles and WIDECAST, the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network.

Through these organizations, we’re taking steps like helping to organize turtle conservation workshops and protect the beaches around Drake Bay, home to more than 4,000 egg-laying sites each nesting season. Sea turtles are gaining advocates in their struggle for habitat, but there’s work yet to be done.

Sea Turtles Forever

Costa Rica contains a staggering share of the world’s biodiversity. Scientists estimate it could hold as much as five percent of the entire world’s plant and animal species, and sea turtles form a tiny but important sliver of Costa Rica’s natural splendor.

Forever Costa Rica is a homegrown initiative that’s innovating new conservation solutions in a country where nature needs protection. Thanks to $50 million of external public and private funding as well as a $19 million annual earmark from the Costa Rican government, sea turtles will benefit from expansive protected areas that employ cutting-edge management strategies.

“Our marine conservation work here is closely aligned with the objectives of the Forever Costa Rica initiative,” says Fabian Sanchez, a Conservancy public protected areas marine specialist working in the country. “More and better parks means four species of sea turtles will have an extra 175 kilometers of protected Costa Rican beaches where they can safely nest.”

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