The ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) faces threats both at sea and on nesting beaches, but thanks to a partnership between conservationists and communities, this kind of situation has improved in the Azuero Peninsula in Pacific coast of Panama.
Coastal communities in Panama protect and enjoy the sea turtles
Several of the beaches on the Azuero Peninsula are of great importance for the survival of the ridley, olive ridley turtle also known as carpenter or mulatto, as these coastal sites are "up" in which certain nights of the year, receiving almost simultaneously to thousands of turtles to lay their eggs in the sand. A few years ago, hundreds of people came to these beaches, especially La Marinera, to extract the eggs and make a big deal of this.
However, thanks to the vision of the Foundation Panama conservationists, especially Lenin Riquelme, who visited the area four years ago to watch the spectacle of the arrival years. He found his mission there, not only ridley is protected in this region, but the residents of local communities benefit financially from their conservation through ecotourism.
Protected area nearest to La Marinera is the Wildlife Refuge Cañas Island, which state as wilderness, is recognized internationally as an important nesting site for sea turtles. The Marinera, despite its great biological importance, has no protected status and is operated by the Panama Maritime Authority.
Riquelme gave the task, as the Foundation of Panama, to seek ways to protect the sites up on the Azuero Peninsula, coordinating actions with the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) and the Panama Maritime Authority looking for money to purchase land in the area and designing a project to involve communities in conservation efforts.
The result has been the establishment of a private reserve of 100 hectares, Juventino Frias Oda, Pachotal in the south of the beach La Marinera, supported by funds from the World Conservation Union (IUCN) / Dutch Foundation and administered by the Panama, other results have been constant surveillance in Marinera with the support of the Maritime Authority of Panama and now there is a local supply of ecotourism, with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife the United States has allowed to involve in ecotourism projects in 16 communities of Beaches of importance for the conservation of dry forest and sea turtles. There are also costs of the peninsula that are nesting areas for other such as leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), prieta (Chelonia agassizii) and is also believed that the loggerhead (Caretta caretta).
Ecotourism project has made allies of local communities in conservation, not just the turtles but also the flora and fauna of the dry forest, an ecosystem that covered the peninsula for centuries but is now reduced to about small remnant areas. A total of 20 people are involved in the plan, with a population of about 2,000 inhabitants, over 50 miles of beaches, previously deforested, handled an unsustainable livestock of looted and turtle eggs. Now, thanks to the training received by the Foundation of Panama and ANAM, people learned to handle the turtle nurseries and plant trees on their farms, allowing them to better utilization of soil and vegetation as well develop a less destructive livestock. Many families have an extra income through tourism.
"We train not only raised the issue of sea turtle, but also look for the generation of financial resources from conservation," says the leader. "They almost finished collecting turtle eggs. Only in The Marinera, a beach of 800 meters long, from May 2005 to August 2006, there have been reported more than 35,000 nesting turtles and one million three hundred thousand turtles were born" he says.
The program supports communities not only in the construction of huts or rooms modified to suit the tourist, usually backpackers or surfers, but also the attention of this segment of vacationers, including the learning of basic English, a structure tariffs in line with the service provided and contact with travel agencies in Panama City. The project provided some construction materials for a consideration of the people, organized meetings and pushed by a great motivator.
With a rate of about $ 10 a day in accommodation and food, tourism in the area now contributes to the family economy of coastal communities in the Azuero Peninsula. This project's approach to people has meant that efforts to purchase land is not seen as a threat by the communities, says Lyneth Cordoba, chief of the Wildlife Refuge and Isla Cañas a founder, along with Riquelme of the NGO Conservation, Nature and Life, aimed at directing future efforts in the conservation area.
"The communities have realized that tourists go to the site not only for the beach and vegetation, but also to see the turtles, which are the main attraction," says Cordova.
According to Riquelme, the $ 10 received by a host family for a tourist, may seem little but mean a big difference in household income.
Despite the great success in tourism managed by communities, efforts to conserve sea turtles and the dry forest in the region, they must still overcome the major obstacle which is the high price of land on the coast, which prevents having sufficient funds to purchase land for the protection of key nesting areas. However, the good relationship with the owners gives hope to convince them to sell their farms at a reasonable price for the sake of conservation, including an area of about four hectares on the beach. The ratings so far do not have a formally protected area as a reserve, despite its vital importance to the arrival of ridley.
Riquelme hopes someday there is a concession area for marine conservation. "If there are concessions for exploitation, why not have awards for conservation and we are also giving a financial benefit to the country, thanks to environmental services," he says.
So far, the largest conservation efforts in the area are the relationship with the locals, who have seen in practice that conservation is well worth the effort.
Contact: Lenin Riquelme, Panama Foundation, tel 507-256-5694; Lyneth Córdoba, tel 507/994-7313
Source: Alliance for Forest
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