Down at the Bottom, We, too, Should Have Rights

I know up on the top you are seeing great sights, but down at the bottom we, too, should have rights. “Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories” ~ Dr. Seuss

Seven arribadas, or turtle arrivals, occur on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Nicaragua each year between July and January. They lumber ashore by the hundreds and sometimes thousands to lay their precious eggs. Throughout the world, there are seven species of sea turtles. Five of the species are found in Nicaragua: Green Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Leatherback Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, and the Olive Ridley Turtle (called Paslama in Nicaragua).

Although these incredible arribadas are a sight to behold, they are fraught with danger… not for tourists who witness the egg-laying marathon, but for the five endangered and critically endangered species of turtles in Nicaragua. The adult sea turtles have few natural predators, mostly sharks and killer whales. Fish, dogs, crabs, seabirds, and other predators prey on eggs and hatchlings. Unfortunately, more than 90% of the hatchlings are eaten by these predators.  This is survival of the fittest in all of its glory…munching to the top of the food chain in a fragile ecosystem.

Yet, the most dangerous threat to the endangered sea turtles is the human species. The problems experienced by the turtles are mostly related to the poverty in Nicaragua. Indigenous communities have inherited the traditions of hunting for turtle eggs ( considered a delicacy and aphrodisiac in Nicaragua), and poaching turtles for meat. The major problem on the Pacific Coast is illegally selling the turtle eggs for public consumption.

Three other problems that contribute to the decline of turtles in Nicaragua are: fishing nets in which turtles may get trapped and drown ( fishing nets, called reds, are the main way to fish in Nicaragua), the destruction of their natural habitat due to accumulation of trash the turtles may ingest, or deforestation, which can indirectly threaten sea turtle nests, and the use of turtle shells, leather, and calipee ( the cartilage of the turtle used to make a popular soup) to make jewelry and other products.

Yet, all hope is not lost. Down at the bottom, the turtles on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua are gaining rights. At the beaches of La Flor and Chacocente, protection of the sea turtles and their environment is managed by civil organizations and the Nicaraguan army. It’s all about changing attitudes. The World Wildlife Fund conducted studies comparing money generated from selling of turtle eggs and other turtle products, and money generated in tourism from the turtle arribadas. It was no surprise that the money generated from tourism was three times that of selling turtle eggs and other turtle products.

For three years, Ron and I have searched for a turtle arribada. We’ve walked miles along  dark, rocky beaches without spotting one turtle. This year, it’s going to be different. We’ve researched the arribada times according to the lunar cycle and found the perfect place to watch the turtles. At the end of September, between the last quarter and the new moon, we are going to Playa El Coco. I’m hoping for a massive arribada, but one turtle will make me happy. 🙂  Wish us luck!

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