While NGOs and villagers are determined to defend the Hawksbill turtle and other species that live in the Bay of Jiquilisco, others insist on eating turtle eggs, use explosives for fishing and disrespect the limits for fishing boats in the bay and at its entrance.
Seven dead turtles in San Juan del Gozo. That was what was reported as of two weeks ago to Walberto Gallegos, Program Manager for Environmental Management and Disaster Prevention of the Mangrove Association in the Bay of Jiquilisco. Covering an area which measures over 32 kilometers, from Isla Montecrito to San Juan del Gozo, the association helps local people manage sea turtle hatcheries that incubate the four species of sea turtles that nest in El Salvador.
The Hawksbill turtle lays eggs on a beach in Punta San Juan overlooking the Bay. In this case, in addition to providing nurseries, the Mangrove Association monitors their activity by placing GPS devices and tags on the turtles.
This has revealed that the Hawksbill turtle comes to shore up to 3 times per season and spawns between 180 and 210 eggs per nest. What we can not know for certain is when, why and where a turtle dies. The records kept by both NGOs and the Ministry of the Environment depends on reports from locals.
Last Wednesday, local fishermen saw a homemade bomb that was thrown from a canoe directly in front of the community of El Cojoyón. The explosive struck a juvenile Hawksbill turtle.
Biologist Michael Liles of ICAPO received the report: “They say that the turtle did not die at that moment but, as they told us, it is likely that it died later.” The body has not surfaced yet.
Within the Xiriualtique-Jiquilisco Bay Biosphere Reserve, various NGOs including the Mangrove Association, Action Aid, the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO) and CODEPA implement different projects in order to preserve this and other natural resources. But while they and the more conscientious residents of the area are determined to protect it, others do the opposite. Gallegos acknowledges that there is “some level of mortality” due to fishing with explosives, but believes that the deaths “are more associated with industrial fishing” and also “large fishing nets which drag the turtles and injure them.”
Article 31 of the General Management and Promotion of Fisheries and Aquaculture Fishing prohibits fishing with explosives. Article 28 provides that certain “fishing methods including trawling and those that are not selective are prohibited in all areas of the aquatic reserve.” Jiquilisco Bay is one of those areas where the law establishes a zone of protection “of one-half mile on each side of the center of the entrance and three miles offshore.”
One Man Takes a Stand
Boanerge Lovo lives in the south of the beach Los Negros, located in the community of Isla Montecristo on Jiquilisco Bay. Years ago, he and his family made their living collecting and selling turtle eggs, until one night while awaiting the arrival of the Leatherbacks at the end of the year, very few appeared. Days later, he found that the number of nests and eggs had declined.
“That’s when I realized that we were killing these animals and that if we continued like that, we would not have enough to live on very soon. So I decided to put a stop to this,” says Lovo, convinced of the importance of their work to conserve sea turtles and the ecosystem.
On his own initiative, Lovo chose to enforce a ban on turtle egg collection in his community once per week. With that, he got the turtles spawn without turtle collectors plundering all the nests to sell eggs. “People respected the ban. Yes, we had to be on watch [at the beaches] all night long, but it was worth it. That year there were quite a few little turtles that made their journey back to sea,” says Lovo.
Today, this former turtle egg collector is supported by [EcoViva and] the Fund for the Americas Initiative (FIAES). Instead of imposing a ban on a personal basis, he pays each turtle egg collector $2.50 per dozen eggs gathered.
“It’s a win-win for the environment and for poor people who have no other livelihood,” says Lovo.
Although in this and other points of the Bay, [the hatcheries] pay $ 2.50 per dozen or 14 eggs, some local people still prefer to collect turtle eggs to sell to their neighbors or to those who, despite the national ban, are willing to risk selling turtles eggs on the black market.
The Deputy Minister of Environment, Lina Pohl, is aware of this: “There are still sales of turtle eggs in some markets. Unfortunately, we cannot enforce the law because for someone to be judged and taken to jail for a crime of this nature, or even to owe fines, they must possess more than a thousand eggs. ” Despite this, the official believes that the national ban “has been very effective.”
Jose Maria [“Chema”] Argueta, of ADESCOIM [Isla de Mendez Community Development Association], believes that when the ban was enacted were no alternative sources of income for those engaged in collecting and selling sea turtle eggs. So, in his opinion, the hatcheries installed in the Bay of Jiquilisco, “are an emergency measure,” while economic alternatives for local people are sought.
As of July 29, the hatchery Isla de Mendez had released 500 Olive Ridley hatchlings [so far this year], the species which most nests from the area of El Retiro to San Juan del Gozo. This is only half of the number who need to be released for at least one turtle to survive to adulthood. In 2010 alone, according to the records of the Ministry of the Environment, 143 Olive Ridleys, 12 Hawksbills , 11 Green and 2 “unidentified” sea turtles died on the Salvadoran coast.
You can stand with the sea turtle defenders of the Bay of Jiquilisco! Donate to EcoViva to help support the sea turtle hatcheries mentioned in this article.