Why sea turtles?

Nowadays, a lot of organisations and beach eco-resorts seem to get their hands on sea turtle protection. Thus, the opportunities to volunteer with these lovely marine creatures are plentiful. You might question yourself: Why another sea turtle program? Why another hatchery?

Let us explain:

Sea turtles are, besides whales, dolphins and sharks, probably the most iconic ocean inhabitants. Conveniently, they are also the most accessible ones. This is simply due to the fact that female turtles come ashore to nest, so people can witness the spectacular process with their own eyes.

Did you ever feel this kind of “magic” when sitting next to a heavyweight, charismatic, mystical reptile under a starry sky and feel uncomparably connected with nature? Then you will understand us! We @ MEMANTA have seen numerous volunteers catching the fever, who later continued to be considerate earth inhabitants, unconditional animal lovers and full-time conservationists.

Sea turtles encounters have proven to be memorable experiences which leave many people so astonished that they start to change their behaviour and take more eco-friendly measures.

The thing about sea turtles is that they somehow have the power to touch your heart. Sea turtles are a so-called flagship species (just like ice bears for the arctic regions). They are not the only inhabitants of the ecosystem at risk, but they are the most popular and photogenic ones. People want to protect them badly, so they turn their attention towards their habitats: Beaches, mangroves, coral reefs, shallow waters and the deep ocean. They stop chopping down beachfront forests, stop littering and polluting, care about climate change, vote for more fishing regulations and so on…. You see: Protecting sea turtles has positive side-effects on the ecosystem as a whole.

We, for our part, focus on the beach as sea turtle habitat. It’s not only about protecting the eggs, but also about keeping the natural vegetation in place, adapting to the effects of climate change and finding sustainable alternatives to massive beachfront development. Last but not least, it is about giving the local inhabitants incentives to stop exploiting their natural resources.

In Nicaragua, collecting and eating sea turtle eggs is not prohibited by law. It is tolerated within the fishing communities who are somewhat dependent on mother earth’s gifts – most of them don’t have the financial resources to buy protein-rich foods in the supermarket.

The real problem now is the commercialisation of the eggs – because people from the city also want to get a taste of the apparently “very delicious” turtle eggs. So the fishing communities don’t only collect eggs for their own families – they collect them for the whole country and get paid good money. Some people are opportunists of course, but some others do this as their profession, as it is their only source of income.

As the human population keeps growing, the demand for eggs keeps rising – as does the need for the exploitation of natural resources as a simple strategy for poverty control.

So that’s where we come in – trying to make a difference in the world on a long-term basis, with the help of your contribution!

Long before I met Melvin at a sea turtle project in Costa Rica in 2016, I had the dream of being a full-time sea turtle conservationist one day. For me, it was not only about the turtles, but also about living in a simpler natural setting, being around like-minded people from all over the world and doing something fun and rewarding outdoors.
After a thouroughful research, we found Playa Venecia to be one of the very few beaches on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast where all the conditions pointed into the right direction. Long story short – here we are!

We want to serve as a role model for established and future businesses in similar settings. Unfortunately, there are a lot of amateurish protection efforts in place, which are done for the wrong reasons (self-enrichment, visitor attraction, tax benefits…) and cause a lot of harm. Be assured that @ MEMANTA, you’ll be guided by real turtle-lovers with years of working experience and a scientific background!

Curious why we even have to save sea turtles?

Many sea turtle populations along the Pacific Coast are suffering heavy declines! And even though a certain species is not listed as “critically endangered”, it could be so in the future! Having one flourishing population in one part of the world doesn’t mean the species is well-off in other parts!

There are certain features of their reproductive behavior and life cycle that make sea turtles especially vulnerable to human threats. Those same features make some aspects of their conservation particularly difficult. These are among others:

– Temperature dependency:
Nest temperatures around 30° C create a balanced ratio of males and females. With hotter temperatures, more embryos turn into females and with cooler temperatures, more embryos turn into males. Temperature extremes increase embryo mortality. Keeping sand temperatures at historical levels ensures a high incubation success and a balanced sex ratio.
– Hatchling orientation:
As hatchlings use light cues to detect the ocean, they are prone to be attracted by artificial light sources instead of natural ones.
– Natal homing instinct:
For reproduction, sea turtles return to their birthplace. With nest site selection being largely inflexible, any changes of the natal beach can threaten the survival of the dependent nesting population.
– Late sexual maturity:
High mortalities during the initial life stages affect a nesting population not until decades later. Nesting activity on a beach is seemingly steady until the generation that first suffered high mortalities should start to reproduce. Conservation efforts that are taken too late are at risk to stay ineffective. Moreover, conservation programs must persist for a long time before the outcomes of their work can be seen.

And NO! It’s not the mischievous crab or the sea gull from the BBC documentary that causes the decline of sea turtle populations. It’s the human-induced threats that evolution didn’t take into account, for example:

– Commercial harvesting of adults, juveniles and eggs (legally and illegally)
– Accidental by-catch in trawls, gill nets or on fishing long-lines
– Pollution of the oceans, especially chemicals, plastic and ghost nets
– Degradation or loss of marine habitats and nesting habitats
– Artificial lighting or obstacles as a result of beachfront development
– Boats and boat propellers causing injuries
– Non-native predators like dogs, raccoons and rats
– Rising water levels and warmer sand temperatures as a result of climate change

Unfortunately, we @ MEMANTA cannot protect sea turtles from all these threats. But we can have a positive influence on some of them, like the commercial harvesting of the eggs, the pollution and the degradation of nesting habitats.

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