Pearl Cays, Nicaragua

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Photo
The hawksbill sea turtle lives the early part of its life in the open ocean, but then gravitates to coral reefs and shallow lagoons. It is found throughout the world's warmer waters.
©R Graham

Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast hosts the world’s most important feeding grounds for the green sea turtle. Small, coconut-covered cayes dot this wild coastline, with shallow waters extending far out into the crystalline sea. These islands are renowned for their dazzling blue waters, white sandy beaches, and lush coastal foliage. In addition to sea turtles, manatees, river otters, dolphins, wood storks, huge numbers of migratory birds, more than 1,000 species of fish, and a vibrant spiny lobster fishery depend on this seascape. Thousands of Nicaragua’s indigenous people and other communities living along this coast also count on the landscape and particularly the green turtles for income and food.

Fast Facts

  • Pearl Cays is a group of 18 uninhabited islands lying roughly 20 miles off Nicaragua’s eastern coast.
  • Communities along the coasts of Nicaragua capture and consume at least 11,000 green turtles per year.


The uncontrolled harvest of sea turtles and their eggs from the Pearl Cays’ waters and beaches threatens the long-term survival of these endangered reptiles. Green sea turtles are facing commercial and eventual ecological extinction, compromising a potentially viable local fishery. Uncontrolled development on nesting beaches is threatening the recovery of the region’s globally important hawksbill nesting population.

WCS Responds

WCS is surveying the Pearl Cays sea turtle populations and promoting conservation education at both the local and national levels to inform Nicaraguans about sea turtle needs and the impacts human activities have on their populations. WCS programs in the Pearl Cays have effectively halted the poaching of hawksbill turtle eggs. WCS is also helping develop a management plan for the long-term conservation of sea turtles and the creation of alternative income sources for local turtle fishers.

From the Newsroom

There and Back Again: One Sea Turtle’s Incredible Journey July 25, 2012

Although conservationists have long known that turtles return to their natal beaches to lay eggs, direct evidence of these pilgrimages is scant. With sea turtles more imperiled than ever, conservationists can’t help but delight in success stories like this one.

A Map for Reef ReliefAugust 12, 2011

WCS marine scientists provide a color code for coral conservation by mapping out the stress loads of the world's reefs.

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