This article originally appeared in El Diario de Hoy on July 22. Click here to view the original Spanish version. Translated by Aaron Voit.
by Lilian Martínez
Illegal nets, explosives, and fencing within the first hundred meters of the beach, like in the Bay of Jiquilisco, undermine actions to conserve the Hawksbill.
The death of a whale calf and an Olive Ridley sea turtle in El Cuco this weekend has shown the dangers that confront cetacean [order of marine mammals that includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises] and chelonian [order of reptiles that includes all turtles] animals in the marine territory of El Salvador. That is the belief of Álex Hasbún, of the Central Pacific Center of Marine Studies (abbreviated CEMAR in Spanish).
“The environmental entity of the country should fulfill its obligations, in this case to create and implement measures to assure the integrity of this living marine resource” he pointed out.
The environmentalist recounted that this past Sunday’s case was not the first time a dead cetacean appeared on a Salvadoran beach: In 2010, a dead whale appeared in Playas Negras; In 2011 another one appeared on the same beach; this year there was another case in Toluca beach and in 2012 multiple dolphins were found deceased. He asks himself, “What is happening?”
The case of the dead whale calf and the turtle beached in El Cuco comes about during the reproductive period of both species. Weeks earlier three Hawksbills were found dead in the Bay of Jiquilisco in a period of thirty days: two adults and a juvenile. The deaths were denounced by biologists and residents of the region who dedicate themselves to the conservation of the turtles.
The first dead Hawksbill turtle was discovered on June 15th on the Arco del Espino beach. Biologist Michale Liles of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (abbreviated ICAPO in Spanish) explained that the turtle was a nesting female that had been tagged on the May 29th.
A volunteer American veterinarian performed a necropsy, but could not determine the cause of death due to the advanced decomposed state of the specimen. The other two Hawksbill turtles were found in the first 10 days of July.
The discoveries are alarming, according to Liles, because for every thousand newborn turtles that are liberated, only one has a realistic possibility of survival and in the Eastern Pacific there remains less than 500 nesting [Hawksbill] females from Mexico to Peru.
At this same time in 2012, only one Hawksbill had been found deceased in the region, remembered Liles. Thus, the NGOs and the turtle egg harvesters in the area- a declared natural area of protection, U.N. Biosphere Reserve, and Ramsar site- have asked the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to create measures to protect the species.
Fermín Guillén, president of the ADESCO El Cojoyón, explained that they sent a letter asking the ministry to prevent the positioning of fences on the beaches where turtles nest. Furthermore, they believe more regulation is necessary to ensure that fishing boats don’t drop their nets in the first three nautical miles, as the law stipulates.
The letter addressed to the Minister of the Environment, Herman Rosa Chàvez, and signed by 126 harvesters in the area reads, “We ask for the permanent protection of a zone of 100 meters along the coast and the free access of the egg harvesters in that zone.” The latter demand was included to assure that the local residents can continue supporting the conservation projects of the Hawksbill turtle.
Barriers to conservation
“There are people acquiring property close to the shoreline of beaches where Hawksbill turtles come to nest,” explained Guillén.
The community leader asserted that the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and Cendepesca should enforce the adherence of fishing boats to the three nautical mile limit where the use of nets is prohibited. However, he noted, “They are swimming against the tide, one could say. That is one thing. Another is that they don’t use a turtle excluder device.” The latter is a mechanism that permits the liberation of turtles if they are caught in the nets of boats.
Through an e-mail, the biologist acknowledged “the speedy reaction” on the part of the fishermen in the area, who informed the National Civil Police, local groups and NGOs in the region of the discoveries. “With very fluid communication between actors, they were able to retrieve and examine the dead Hawksbill Turtle,” which, in previous years, would have been impossible due to “the lack of coordination,” indicated Liles.
Nathan Weller, director of programs and environmental policy at EcoViva, explained that together with the Mangrove Association, they have been coordinating and constructing alliances with the police and one hundred communities in the lower Lempa and Jiquilisco Bay.
The objective is to control and prevent the destruction of mangrove and fisheries with explosives. “With this mechanism, together with [the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative], we have a mechanism for fluid information exchange… When a fisher sees a dead Hawksbill in the bay, they call the authorities and the police,” he explained.
Weller, who is a specialist in environmental policy, stated that the exact number of turtles who have died in in the area previously is not known, but now that the vigilance by local communities has increased, these cases come to light. This past Thursday, he and Liles met with the Vice Minister of the Environment, Lina Polh, to talk about the problem.