“We must not them let die out on our watch.” This is the stark message from conservationists protecting leatherback turtles in the Eastern Pacific who, for the first time in 16 years, have found no nesting leatherbacks in Chacocente, Nicaragua.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) staff and partners in the country watched with growing concern as the leatherback nesting season in the Eastern Pacific progressed with no sign of the critically endangered turtle. The season ended in early March without the world’s largest turtle establishing a single nest in Nicaragua.
While leatherback turtles are known to forage as far north and south as the sub-polar latitudes, with jellyfish a preferred meal, when it comes to nesting they opt for sandy tropical beaches, and Chacocente is one of their favoured spots.
FFI has been helping to protect sea turtles in Nicaragua for 17 years, and a comprehensive conservation programme – which involves community-led patrols of key nesting beaches and a national education scheme – has resulted in the protection of over 90% of Nicaragua’s nesting leatherbacks.
The East Pacific population of leatherbacks, which nest along the coast of Mexico, and Central and South America, had previously experienced a precipitous decline – principally as a result of the illegal harvesting of eggs and habitat destruction as well as entanglement and drowning as a result of irresponsible and damaging fishing practices. A rapidly warming world is also adding to existing pressures on the species by increasing the proportion of female hatchlings.