A project of NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in conjunction with the partners and sponsors detailed below.
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Make a list of the world's most endangered sea turtle populations. Is the eastern Pacific hawksbill on it? If not, it's no surprise. Essentially nothing is known of the biology, distribution, abundance, or conservation needs of this enigmatic population. Until recently, virtually nothing had been done to study what remains of these animals in the eastern Pacific, hunted nearly into extinction long before the start of the modern sea turtle conservation movement.
In 2005, the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group recognized the lack of information about this population, listing it among global-scale critical research and conservation needs. According to communities and conservation projects in the region, some hawksbills do still remain in the eastern Pacific, but until recently, many thought it was too late to save hawksbills in this region. However, during the First Workshop on Eastern Pacific Hawksbills held in El Salvador in July 2008, it became clear that there were still a few nesting strongholds for the species in the region and that it was not too late to recover hawksbill turtles in the Eastern Pacific.
Boding well for the turtles, more hawksbills are being reported now than were reported several decades ago a result of the increased protection afforded to sea turtles in the early 1990s, many local fishers believe. As explained by Juan de la Cruz, a former turtle hunter from a small fishing village on the shores of the Gulf of California, Mexico, thirty years ago it was almost impossible to see a hawksbill, because hunting of the species was rampant. Once the laws were established, the market for penca [tortoise shell] died, and seeking hawksbills became too risky. If people wanted to eat turtle meat, they trapped other turtles that were easier to capture.
In spite of these recent discoveries and increased in-water hawksbill sightings, Jose Ovidio Perdomo, a life-long sea turtle egg collector turned conservationist, still has concerns about nesting hawksbills in the Biosphere Reserve of the Bahia de Jiquilisco, El Salvador, Although we are receiving hawksbills, their numbers have decreased significantly during my 40 years in the 'tortugueada' (search for sea turtle eggs), owed primarily to the extraction of eggs for consumption, beach development, and most recently, the use of explosives (as a fishing technique). I fear that if we don't change our path, my grandchildren will not know the hawksbills.
Many questions remain, but the mysteries of this forgotten population are beginning to reveal themselves. By shedding light on the biology and conservation status of the eastern Pacific hawksbill, we will provide critical information for local and regional conservation management plans that will ultimately determine the feasibility of the turtles recovery in this region of the world, hopefully transforming their vanishing act into a comeback.
For video and media coverage of this multi-national collaborative effort go to:
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A multi-national partnership including Fundacion Zoologica de El Salvador, Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnologia de la Universidad de El Salvador, Proyecto Carey! del Pacifico Oriental, NOAA - Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Ocean Conservancy, Comite de Desarrollo Empresarial y Medio Ambiente de Puerto Parada, Centro Tecnologico par Estudios del Mar No. 14, Pro Peninsula, Grupo Tortuguero and Equilibrio Azul.
Our Eastern Pacific Hawksbill team would like to thank the following individuals and organizations (logos) for their support of this project:
- Wally y Sheila Nichols
- Carlos Enrique Araujo
- Enrique Melendez
- Leonor Sardihna
- Michael Carey
- Dane Whittington