Current nesting numbers of hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the eastern Pacific (EP) suggest the population is not likely to persist without coordinated conservation actions directed at protecting nests, increasing hatchling recruitment and generating information that can be incorporated into management strategies. Research and conservation actions spearheaded by the Iniciativa Carey del Pacifico Oriental -ICAPO- (Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative), which began in 2007, have led to the establishment of several projects aimed at protecting the species, as well as international recognition of the need to conserve the population. Despite these achievements, conservation and research remains nascent and increased efforts to protect and raise awareness of this poorly understood population are urgently needed if it is to avoid regional extirpation.
Estero Padre Ramos (Estero), Nicaragua, and Bahia Jiquilisco (Bahia), El Salvador, have been identified as the two most important hawksbill nesting rookeries in the entire EP, combined accounting for more than 90% of known nesting in the region. ICAPO established a successful hawksbill conservation program at Estero in 2010, leading to the protection of more than 90% of the nests laid at the site.
Beach Monitoring, egg protection and hatchling production
In May 2010 the research team began characterizing hawksbill nesting and providing hatchling recruitment at the Estero Padre Ramos Natural Reserve via the ‘Hawksbill Project’. The project works directly with the traditional egg ‘poachers’ to find and collect turtle eggs, providing critical recruitment of the species while also supporting local community members stricken with poverty and with limited options to provide for themselves and their families. The project completed monitoring in October 2010, having observed and tagged more than 73 individual hawksbills and protected an astonishing 257 hawksbill nests, representing a total of 41,602 eggs! Amazingly, only 23 (8.2%) nests were poached (i.e. sold to markets). These successes are unprecedented; more hawksbills have been tagged in Estero Padre Ramos than in the rest of the eastern Pacific combined.
Additionally, the poaching rate is among the lowest for any sea turtle conservation project in Central America. These results demonstrate the importance of Estero Padre Ramos for hawksbills, far surpassing our original (and once-thought optimistic) estimate of 60-100 nests per season. Estero Padre Ramos has surpassed Bahia Jiquilisco (El Salvador) as the most important hawksbill nesting site in the eastern Pacific, accounting for roughly 50% of the known hawksbill nesting in the entire eastern Pacific.
International Hawksbill Workshop
In close collaboration with local partners, the “Second Workshop of the Hawksbill Turtle in the Eastern Pacific” was held in the Estero Padre Ramos Natural Reserve from 13-14 July, 2010. The workshop involved a total of 45 participants hailing from the US, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Participants represented local co-ops, NGOs, academic institutions and government entities. At the workshop, participants defined research and conservation priorities and strategized on multinational, collaborative efforts to expand the ICAPO network and improve management of the
species. The workshop also provided an ideal venue to highlight the new findings in Estero Padre Ramos and raise the profile of the project on an international stage.
In the days proceeding the workshop, in a collaboration with FFI, ICAPO and NOAA, the conservation team undertook a hawksbill satellite tagging campaign in Estero Padre Ramos. Satellite tracking is a unique tool used to elucidate movement behavior, including migration patterns, habitat use and the overlap of these areas with potential threats (e.g. fishing). In total, they applied satellite tags to four hawksbills, 3 post-nesting females and, for the first time ever, a male. While one of the tags had technical issues, the other three tags have shown a variety of movement behaviors, including local residence and migrations to both Salvadoran and Honduran waters. The tracks of these and other hawksbills previously tagged in the eastern Pacific can be seen by clicking here.
Coastal interviews and monitoring
The project interviewed local fishermen and community members along the Pacific coast of Nicaragua to identify regions where hawksbills can be found nesting and/or foraging. When potential sites are found, ICAPO will conduct nightly beach monitoring activities, in the case of nesting, and/or tangle-net monitoring or night SCUBA dives, in the case of foraging. Interviews/monitoring began at the country’s northern border with Honduras and proceeded south towards the municipality of Rivas. An important hawksbill foraging aggregation area has already been documented along the northern tip of the Cosiguina Peninsula, at the entrance to the Gulf of Fonseca. These findings provide an optimistic outlook for continued success of the effort.
In Estero Padre Ramos:
In Bahia Jiquilisco, El Salvador: