Summer in Portland, Oregon, is wonderful. Warm sunny days blend gradually into crisp nights, and even at the height of summer, it’s the 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, 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, the only response is “Yes!” and to start looking at airfares. For 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.
I am the Director and Co-Founder SEEtheWILD, a project of The Ocean Foundation and 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.
Despite having worked in sea turtle conservation for most of the past decade, this new 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 Izilwane’s readers about the threats sea turtles face in this region and how the public can participate in their conservation.
A few of the inspiring people I’ll be meeting up with include Alex and 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 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 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 specific populations of 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.