Operation Pacuare is a joint sea turtle anti-poaching campaign between Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Costa Rica and Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) Association on Pacuare Beach, in Costa Rica’s Limón province. Operation Pacuare was launched mid August, and will run through the end of November, the end of the peak sea turtle nesting season. Sea Shepherd and LAST volunteers are protecting hawksbill, green and leatherback sea turtles, which all frequent the small island to nest on a yearly basis.
Sea turtles already face a list of human-induced threats, including entanglement in fishing gear, by-catch and ocean pollution, but poaching is driving sea turtles toward the brink of extinction. Humans pose the most significant threat to sea turtle survival. Turtles often fall victim to fishing bycatch due to imprecise fishing methods. Long-lines, driftnets, marine debris and abandoned fishing nets are all recurring causes of accidental sea turtle death. In addition to predators and pollution, there is a black-market demand for tortoiseshell for decorative and supposed health benefits. Turtle meat and eggs are regularly consumed by some cultures as food, and even considered a delicacy. Sea turtles are also vulnerable to pollution and disease because they spend a portion of their lives at the surface. Sea turtles play key roles in two ecosystems that are important to our survival, as well as theirs: oceans and beaches/dunes. In the oceans, sea turtles are one of very few creatures that consume sea grass from the sea floor, and act as grazing animals that cut the grass short and help maintain the health of the sea grass beds. Sea grass beds provide breeding and developmental grounds for numerous species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Without sea grass beds, many marine species would be lost, as would the lower levels of the food chain. The reactions could result in many more marine species eventually becoming endangered or extinct as well. Beaches and dunes form a fragile ecosystem that depends on vegetation to protect against erosion. Eggs and hatchlings that fail to make it into the ocean are nutrient sources for dune vegetation. Dune vegetation is able to grow and become stronger with the presence of nutrients from sea turtle eggs, unhatched nests, eggs and trapped hatchlings. As the dune vegetation grows stronger and healthier, the health of the entire beach/dune ecosystem becomes better. Stronger vegetation and root systems help to hold the sand in the dunes and help protect the beach from erosion.
The unofficial population of the undeveloped island of Pacuare is only about two hundred residents – the people here are very poor. There are few ways to make a living aside from fishing and selling coconuts. Some people turn to poaching eggs and killing turtles for meat and souvenirs as income. However, if given an alternative source of income, such as ecotourism, the locals would prefer to protect instead of exploit the turtles. Turtle slaughter and egg poaching remain relatively unexposed by the media as Costa Rica is often portrayed as an eco-touristic safe haven for animal species. One of the main reasons for this campaign is to increase international awareness of what is happening here in Costa Rica to influence the government to take a more active role in protecting these creatures before it’s too late.
Sea Shepherd and LAST volunteers are actively patrolling Pacuare Island’s coastline to locate and protect sea turtle nests, as well as the turtles. The first person to approach a turtle gets the nest. This unspoken law is generally respected and reduces the chance of disputes. The basic strategy to protect these turtles is a game of numbers —the more volunteers patrolling the beaches and laying claim to turtles before poachers, the fewer eggs poached and resulting dead turtles. Preliminary field reports show one volunteer to every three poachers; thus, more volunteer recruits are desperately needed to keep the nesting turtles out of harm’s way.
Volunteer, donate and spread the word. If you are unable to volunteer your time to come to Costa Rica and participate in the nightly patrols, then please donate to Sea Shepherd to fund campaigns to defend the sea turtles or spread the word about turtle poaching amongst your network. Sea Shepherd is running concurrent sea turtle defense campaigns in turtle-poaching hotspots including Utila, Honduras and Cape Verde, West Africa.
There are seven species of sea turtles in the world including green, flatback, hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley and olive ridley. Four of these species have been identified as "endangered" or "critically endangered,” and another two are classed as "vulnerable,” by the IUCN Red List of Endangered species. Sea turtles are some of the oldest living creatures, they are one of the few species so ancient that they watched the dinosaurs evolve and become extinct. Sea turtle populations are slow to rebound because it takes several decades for adults to reach sexual maturity in order to reproduce. On average, only one hatchling out of 100 will survive to adulthood.
December 12, 2014 - Operation Pacuare Wrap-up – the Numbers Are In
October 30, 2014 - Meet the Crew - Operation Pacuare’s Brett Bradley
October 13, 2014 - Report from the Field: Operation Pacuare
October 7, 2014 - Report from the Field: Operation Pacuare
September 15, 2014 - Sea Shepherd Launches Operation Pacuare: Sea Turtle Anti-Poaching Campaign