McGill Student Researchers Present on Sea Turtle Conservation in Pedasí

c. Margaret von Saenger

Did you know that 5 out of 7 species of sea turtles nest on the beaches of Panama, including the leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead, green and olive ridley turtle? Elana Evans and Iké Green-Nault, two undergraduate students from McGill University in Montreal, Canada culminated their semester abroad internship with Pedasí’s turtle conservation group, Tortugeños Pedasieños, by presenting on sea turtle conservation in the Pedasi area during the last week of April. They gave six presentations on their project at the Plinio A. Moscoso high school in Pedasí. They also presented to the children who attended AEP´s Pro Eco Pelaos program.

Elana and Ike´s presentations provided a foundation on turtle ecology and conservation. They explained that the 5 species of turtles that visit Panama beaches serve important functions in the local ecosystem. For example, turtles conserve the health of coral reef systems by feeding on the algae that blocks sunlight for coral growth. In addition, leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) maintain fish populations important to the local economy by preying on the types of jellyfish that attack these fish.

c. Margaret von Saenger

Elana and Ike also talked about the turtle life cycle, explaining that it takes between 20-30 years for turtles to reach sexual maturity. On average, only one turtle out of 1,000 turtles hatched survives to reproductive age, and as a result, mother turtles lay hundreds of eggs each seasons to ensure that their offspring survive. Reproduction difficulties present a challenge to turtle conservation. As Elana explained, ¨Because turtles are slow to mature, the effects of over-exploitation are not immediately evident. The eggs that are taken from a nest in 2013 would, if left to hatch and survive into adulthood, only return to their nesting beach in the 2030s. If a large percentage of the eggs are taken for consumption it is not until 30 years down the road that the effects are visible in population declines.¨

Elana and Ike showed the audience a map of sites where turtles have been seen nesting in the area. They also shared a guide they developed for Tortugueños Pedasieños that identifies the 5 types of turtles in Panama, as well as describing the activities of the group and how to get involved. In addition to their presentations, Elana and Ike also screened the movie ¨A Turtle´s Tale: Sammy´s Adventures¨ as part of the Azuero Earth Project´s Monkey Movie Night series. The film, attended by local youth, some who participated in previous turtle monitoring sessions, follows the life of Sammy the sea turtle as he faces a changing world due to global warming.

Elana and Ike´s project and collaboration with Tortugueños Pedasieños culminates their spring semester study abroad program through McGill University. Their project also anticipates the upcoming turtle monitoring season, which starts in June here on the Azuero Peninsula. The Azuero Earth Project would like to thank Elana and Ike for their contribution to local turtle conservation efforts.

c. Margaret von Saenger

Tortugeños Pedasieños, coordinated by Robert Shahverdians, Victor Vera and Margaret von Saenger focuses on turtle monitoring and conservation activities on Pedasí beaches and is open to anyone in the Pedasí community who wants to protect local turtles. For more information about Tortugeños Pedasieños, how to get involved with local sea turtle monitoring efforts, and how to purchase a copy of the turtle guide developed by Elana and Ike, contact Margaret at 6937-5605 or tortugaspedasi@gmail.com.

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

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