Nicaragua's Waters

Green Turtle Photo
©CL Campbell

On the surface, Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast seems like a great place to be a sea turtle, and it once was. With an array of marine habitats, including coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangroves, lagoons, and estuaries, the coast is also fitting for the dolphins, river otters, and endangered Caribbean manatees that swim its waters. Wood storks, roseate spoonbills, huge populations of seasonally migratory birds and more than 1,000 species of fish dwell there, too. But no animals better reflect the health of Nicaragua’s coastal environment (and of the wider region that depends on it) than its sea turtles—the critically endangered hawksbill and the endangered green, loggerhead, and leatherback turtles. Notably, thousands of Nicaragua’s indigenous people and other communities living along this coast also count on green turtles for income and a protein source.

Fast Facts

  • Local communities capture and consume a minimum of 11,000 green turtles per year. This economically important local fishery spans the entire Nicaraguan coast, yet many Nicaraguans are unaware of their consumption’s impact on sea turtle populations.
  • Endangered sea turtles critically rely on the nesting and feeding habitat within the offshore waters and on the cays and mainland of Caribbean Nicaragua.
  • Because this habitat is essential to many sea turtle populations’ life cycles, the success of sea turtle conservation efforts in other Caribbean nations and in the United States hangs significantly on the actions of Nicaragua’s natural resource users and managers.

Challenges

The uncontrolled harvest of both sea turtles and their eggs, from Nicaragua’s water and beaches, fosters serious uncertainty for the long-term survival of these endangered species. Green sea turtles now face commercial extinction, compromising a potentially viable local fishery. In addition, uncontrolled development on the nesting beaches of the Pearl Cays threatens the recovery of Nicaragua’s globally important hawksbill nesting population. Further, the decline of sea turtle populations contributes to a decline in the overall marine environment.

WCS Responds

WCS is involved in scientific surveys of sea turtle populations as well as conservation education at both the local and national levels that teach Nicaraguans about sea turtle needs and the impacts human activities have on endangered populations. For instance, 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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