Critically Endangered sea turtles begin nesting season in Nicaragua

Hawksbill turtle nesting season has begun! The hawksbill is the least known of the world’s three Critically Endangered sea turtle species, with only a few hundred nests estimated to be laid across the entire coastline of the Eastern Pacific. As a species teetering on the brink of extinction, the potential that the new nesting season brings cannot be underestimated.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI), in partnership with the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO), support a community-based conservation initiative at Estero Padre Ramos Natural Reserve, on Nicaragua’s north-west coast to protect, conserve and develop understanding of the hawksbill turtles. The nesting season will continue until September, with Nicaragua’s pacific coastline supporting globally important nesting beaches for the species.

The entire nesting process takes between one to three hours and, on average, hawksbills nest four times a season at intervals of about 14 days, with eggs taking about 60 days to hatch. Hawksbills have a strong site fidelity to specific nesting beach areas and are capable of returning to the same place season after season.

Categorised as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, the hawksbill turtle faces many threats to its continued existence, due mainly to human impact. Hawksbill eggs are still eaten around the world despite the turtle’s international protected status, and they are often killed for their flesh and stunning shells (hawksbills are the only turtle species known to have what is referred to as a ‘tortoise shell’ due to its bright distinctive colours). These sea turtles are also threatened by accidental capture in fishing nets.

Currently, FFI work to conserve sea turtles in five different sites along the pacific coast of Nicaragua – four of which have protected area status. The turtle programme focuses on the protection and monitoring of three species of marine turtle – leatherback, hawksbill and olive ridley. FFI’s work in Nicaragua has already impacted positively on marine turtles. Last year alone, FFI and local partners helped 2.4 million turtle hatchlings reach the ocean. This was as a result of anti-poaching efforts at a series of beaches, including at Estero Padre Ramos which is now considered one of the most important nesting beaches for hawksbill turtles in the entire Eastern Pacific.

The 2011-2012 nesting season will mark the 10th anniversary of FFI’s turtle programme in Nicaragua.

Photo credit: Danny Bergeron/Marine Photobank