Spotlight: Jairo Mora Sandoval, Costa Rican Turtle Protector

ENL_on beach_JairoMoraambientalista

“It was his passion, he believed in saving the turtles. He could walk 20 miles along the beach watching and marking turtle nests,” said Didier Chacon, Widecast project coordinator for Latin America.

Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old conservationist, spent much of his time working for the conservation of Costa Rica’s leatherback turtle nesting areas. He was, by all accounts, passionate, dedicated, smart and very courageous.

On the last day of May, he was murdered, brutally, senselessly, in an act that appears tied to his conservation work.

Jairo was patrolling Moín Beach that night, a leatherback turtle nesting area, for conservation group WIDECAST. After his murder, WIDECAST suspended all beach patrols. But fellow conservationist Vanessa Lizzano has pointed out that patrols must continue, somehow – “If we forget about this beach, then Jairo died for nothing,” she said.

Oceanwire joins his family and colleagues, Costa Ricans and the global conservation community in mourning this tragic and needless loss, and we urge our readers to add their voices to the chorus demanding that his murderers be found and convicted, and that conservation of Jairo’s passion – Costa Rica’s sea turtles – continue, with all necessary protections.

Here’s what you can do:

Sign petitions to Costa Rica’s president demanding action here and here. (sign both – why not?). Let them know the world is watching.

Donate here to the reward fund for the capture and conviction of the killers (scroll to bottom of page to find donation link).

Read about him here (Wikipedia), here (Dot Earth/NY Times), here (UK’s Independent), and here (Costa Rica’s Tico Times).

Spread the word.

      Na waimaka o ka lani.  


Hollywood (Fla) to dim lights for turtles

It’s taken time, many battles, and the city’s need for permits, but the city of Hollywood, Florida has agreed to dim the lights along its beaches during turtle nesting season.

As scientists have told us for years, and as volunteers with STOP have shown us in this vivid video, sea turtle hatchlings are attracted by light – and head towards it once they crawl out of the sand to begin what should be their voyage into the sea.

Hollywood, Fla. has resisted curbing its lighting — even installing bright, “old-fashioned” streetlights along the Broadwalk in 2007, which exacerbated the problem.

The city did not go willingly into this new ordinance – rather, state and federal officials refused to grant the city permits to fix eroding beaches if it didn’t take steps to protect turtles from the lights. Though done under duress, a state biologist pointed out that this is a big step:

Robbin Trindell, a biologist in charge of sea turtle protection for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the ordinance represents a “major step” toward assuring state and Continue reading “Hollywood (Fla) to dim lights for turtles”

Sea turtle hatchlings LOVE beach resort lights

There’s bound to be messiness when creatures who’ve roamed the seas and beaches for millions of years face the relatively newfangled phenomenon of artifical light. Scientists believe that sea turtle hatchlings, when they emerge from their shells on beaches around the world, institnctually move in the direction where the sky is brightest. On a beach with no artificial lights, that direction is most often the open horizon of the sea.

Here, a few people from the group SeaTurtle Oversight Protection in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida took a night camera out on the beach as they tried to re-direct scores of hatchlings who scurried relentlessly toward the resort lights on a beach… even when they were put in the lapping waves of the ocean instead.

Citizen reporting giving us an interesting visual view of light pollution (and, further into the video, beach chair hazards) and turtle nesting – not meshing well together.

* See Andrew Revkin’s NY Times Dot Earth post about this post & STOP’s video: On Florida Beaches, Let There Be Dark

Today’s Gulf sea turtle – Loggerhead

As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notesall five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was true even before the BP oil disaster). We’re looking at fast facts about these species – this week, it’s the Loggerhead:

Loggerhead Sea Turtle
(Caretta caretta)

  • named for their large heads
  • listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 1978
  • adults generally grow to be 31 to 45 inches large, and weigh 170 to 250 pounds
  • reach sexual maturity around 20 to 30 years old; loggerheads are estimate to live up to and beyond 50 years
  • dine on jellyfish, sponges, shellfish, shrimp, squid, barnacles, sea urchins and occasionally seaweed
  • thought to be the largest hard shell turtle species
  • in the Gulf, nest primarily along the Florida coast
  • the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is the most important nesting area for loggerheads in the western hemisphere

Loggerhead turtles are threatened by the same things imperiling all sea turtles — marine debris, degradation of nesting habitat, capture for meat and eggs. One of the primary threats they face is incidental capture in fishing gear – from nets to longlines. Commercial shrimp trawlers have historically had a relatively high incidental turtle catch. Now, those trawlers’ nets have turtle excluder devices (TEDs). A TED is an grid of crossbars at the neck of the trawl net – it allows turtles and sharks caught in the net to get out. This ‘escape hatch’ is credited with saving countless sea turtles. The US government says it’s working with other countries who export shrimp to the US to require encourage shrimp trawlers to use TEDs. The photo on left is a loggerhead escaping a trawl net via a TED.

Photos courtesy NOAA: top photo, Marco Giuliano/ Fondazione Cetacea

Information sources:
National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA
National Park Service
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Connecticut Dept of Environmental Protection

Pic o’ the week – sea turtle hatchlings

“The ancient mariner who has seen both the fall of dinosaurs and
the dawn of humankind, this master navigator now,
ironically, needs us … to chart a path to its future.”
-Carl Safina

The Leatherback turtle hatchlings above head into the sea for the first time. Only a few of every hundred or thousand sea turtle hatchlings make it to adulthood.

Threats to their survival include the manmade – poaching, electric lights that interfere with their navigation by moonlight, plastic bags that look like their jellyfish prey, and fishing gear that hopelessly entangles them. At beaches around the world, some people step in to help the endangered sea turtles reproduce.

On the crowded beaches of south Maui, locals are gearing up to help the sea turtles in their millenia-old reproductive ritual.

Harry Eagar of The Maui News reports on the efforts that conservationists, turtle lovers and scientists make every year to help the turtles nest and the hatchlings make the perilous journey from nest to sea.

And Amy Sutherland’s article in the May’s Smithsonian magazine gives a great first-hand account of efforts to help the severely endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles as they nest on Cape Cod beaches.

Want to get involved or adopt a sea turtle or donate in some way? Check out Caribbean Conservation Corp.’s excellent listing of sea turtle groups.

Photo by Scott R. Benson, National Marine Fisheries Service/NOAA