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Gena Abarca, Environmental Education & Communication Coordinator with Fauna & Flora International Nicaragua recollects some personal highs – and lows – all in the line of raising awareness of turtles in Nicaragua.
It has been four years since I began working for Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI) turtle programme in Nicaragua. My work with FFI concentrates on a national awareness campaign to reduce the consumption and trade of marine turtle products and sub-products.
Since the launch of the campaign “I don’t eat turtle eggs” in 2007, I have worked with many young people along the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. Together we have visited fish markets, seafood retailers, restaurants and cocktail bars where turtle eggs are commonly sold.
I have worked to educate and raise awareness amongst traders and market authorities. During these years of hard work, many things have been achieved. We have succeeded in reaching the whole country and estimate that approximately 50% of the population now knows about our turtle campaign.
To achieve this we have had many good experiences, as well as some not so good. I will always remember one experience in particular; I was assaulted by a woman who sold turtle eggs in the Israel Lewites Market in Managua. She pounced on me with a bucket of water filled with entrails and scales from the fish that she was selling. The stench was so bad that I can still feel the smell on my body!
A more common experience from my work when I visit the different markets, especially the Oriental Market, is the “crac crrr chirr” sound made as people scrape their razor-sharp fish knives against each other. The traders’ looks can be intimidating. I used to feel afraid, but today that fear has gone. This is because I know that every time I talk directly with a market trader, or train a volunteer to do so, I can leave them with a better impression about marine turtles and eventually the time will come when every trader will stop selling turtle eggs.
The awareness campaign takes me to many places, in cities and the countryside, where I also work with young students, teachers, and of course children who live in coastal areas where marine turtles nest. When I am in the schools, giving talks about the conservation of sea turtles, raising awareness and teaching about the global importance of marine turtles, everything is different. You realise that children have the ability to change the world and it is they who will make it possible.
The happiest moments of my job is when I go to the beach and see, in the hands of a child, a small turtle hatchling being released into the sea. That is when I know how worthwhile our work is – all the time and effort dedicated to raising awareness. Because, in the end, you know how important it is to educate people, and that only by raising awareness and through environmental education can we change the sea turtle’s destiny.