Protectors, Not Poachers

By Britta Peterson & Greg Reitman

One of the world’s greatest treasures, sea turtles, is threatened by extinction. With the continued rise of poverty and lack of food resources, egg poaching has become a mainstream commodity and a means for survival. This man-made epidemic has been on the rise for decades, and is most prominent along the beaches of Nicaragua’s Pacific Slop. Poachers, viewed like pirates, roam the coastline depleting sea turtle eggs to make a quick dollar.

This year I had the opportunity to attend the Clinton Global Initiative where I learned of this epidemic by the non-profit organization, Paso Pacifico. Paso Pacifico’s mission is to restore and conserve the natural ecosystems of Central America’s Pacific slope by collaborating with landowners, local communities and involved organizations to promote ecosystem conservation.

Paso Pacifico’s main obstacle has been dealing with the local community’s mentality that poaching eggs is an acceptable practice. With the continued lack of infrastructure and regulations, poaching, commonly found among drug-induced men, has become a common way of doing business. With the increasingly threat of extinction to sea turtles along the Pacific Coast, Paso Pacifico directly combats the poaching system by implementing a local Nicaragua community program led by women. These women congregate on seacoasts battling against the poachers protecting the nests through a performance-based incentive program. For every sea turtle that successfully hatches, a payment is received. To date, the program has already paid thousands of dollars to the local people as a reward for their conservation efforts. Additionally, the women provide a financial incentive to the men poachers in exchange for allowing the eggs to hatch.

Dr. Sarah Otterstrom, Executive Director states, “Women possess unique knowledge about the value of wildlife, water, and trees to society, yet they have been overlooked as guardians of nature. Through our effort, Nicaraguan women are now the lead protagonists in protecting sea turtles from extinction. They carefully monitor incubating eggs and assist the hatchlings as they walk to the sea.”

Within the program, women have been identified as the lead protectors of nesting sea turtles in their villages demonstrating them as environmental stewards. Considering these women have few avenues of earning income, Paso Pacifico’s performance-based incentive program has assisted them in providing a mechanism to derail the poaching combined with earning a decent wage. The women protectors receive 35 cents per hatchling and each turtle nest has over ten dozen eggs. In addition, there are hundreds of turtles nesting on the beach each year. This project has also allowed women to collaborate with one another. Rather than individually receiving funds for each protected sea turtle, they opted to pool the money they earn and equally distribute it across their group of sea turtle protectors.

About Paso Pacifico.

Paso Pacifico is a non-profit organization that works to protect Central America’s Pacific slope ecosystems. It implements projects in environmental education, forest restoration and wildlife conservation. In working towards its vision, Paso Pacifico empowers communities to develop more sustainable livelihoods in eco-tourism, fishing, agriculture, and natural resource management. In addition, advancing women and children as environmental leaders and develops strong, collaborative relationships within communities.

For more information, visit www.pasopacifico.org

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