Fauna & Flora International’s José Urteaga named Emerging Explorer

Fauna & Flora International’s José Urteaga (above), Nicaragua Programme Manager, has been named a 2010 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his conservation work on threatened marine turtles in Nicaragua.

“Fauna & Flora International is proud and delighted that the National Geographic Society has given José this global recognition,” said Rob Bensted-Smith, Americas and Caribbean Regional Director, Fauna & Flora International (FFI).

José, a marine biologist who studied at Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata in Argentina, has been working on FFI’s marine turtle programme since 2002.

All seven species of marine turtles are threatened with extinction globally, with five of these found in Nicaraguan waters. Turtles migrate from feeding grounds across the Pacific Ocean to nest on the beaches of Nicaragua.

To bring marine turtles back from the brink will require protection on the beaches and at sea. It is a task that will take many generations to complete and José has dedicated himself to it wholeheartedly.

A major challenge is the prevention of illegal harvesting of turtle eggs along beaches on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, where many people live on less than $US1 and are tempted by the prospect of extra income from selling turtle eggs.

“We can’t only look at this only from the turtle’s point of view,” José explains, “We must also see the human side.”

He and his team work tirelessly not only to patrol the beaches and protect the nests but also to help communities develop alternative income sources, such as organic farming, beekeeping and crafts.

Conservation itself can provide local employment, for example as beach monitors or, in the case of one women’s group, weaving discarded plastic bags into durable shoulder bags for sale to visitors.

José has been instrumental in building a network of hatcheries, where juvenile turtles hatch in safety before being released and shepherded down to the sea’s edge.

So far over 80 community members have been trained in turtle monitoring, hatchery management and other conservation work.

This comprehensive, people-centred approach has led to an impressive rise in hatching success.

In the past almost every leatherback turtle egg on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast was poached.

Only a few years later, studies estimate more than 90% of leatherback nests are protected on key beaches.

Photo credits: José Urteaga/Fauna & Flora International