Marine Biologist Makes Incredible Progress in Saving Critically-Endangered Hawksbill Turtles

Marine Biologist Makes Incredible Progress in Saving Critically-Endangered Hawksbill Turtles

An endangered Hawksbill sea turtle hatchling dashing to the ocean. Costa Rica

Ariana Oporta-McCarthy, a marine biologist and president of the Costa Rican Alliance for Sea Turtle Conservation & Science, is dedicated to saving the critically-endangered Hawksbill turtle. The Hawksbill turtle has faced exploitation for food, tortoiseshell, and other reasons, which has led to its critically endangered status. Oporta-McCarthy's work focuses on the main nesting beach in Costa Rica, Gandoca beach, where illegal egg collection has threatened the turtle population.

With the help of her team, Oporta-McCarthy has made significant progress in protecting the turtles and their habitat. They have reduced looting from 100% to almost 0%, removed four tons of plastics from the nesting beach, released over 40,000 hatchlings, and planted more than 500 mangrove trees. Additionally, Oporta-McCarthy and her team have re-established a conservation research project to study nesting activities and movements of sea turtle populations, with a specific emphasis on the Hawksbill species.

One of the main challenges of the project was restarting research and conservation efforts after many years of inactivity. However, Oporta-McCarthy and her team have received high levels of community acceptance and support for their work. They have focused on generating scientific skills in the young people of the community, helping them become active participants in turtle conservation. The team conducts field work, including night patrols to protect nesting females and their nests, collecting scientific information, relocating nests for protection, searching for hatchlings, and restoring the habitat by cleaning the beach and planting mangroves.

Oporta-McCarthy's dedication and accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. She was named a 2022 Fellow of the New England Aquarium's Marine Conservation Action Fund, which provided funding for her team to visit schools and provide environmental education. This allowed local children to witness the incredible experience of seeing and releasing turtle hatchlings.

Oporta-McCarthy's passion for sea turtle conservation stems from her childhood in Gandoca. Growing up without access to electricity or potable water, she was inspired by her close relatives who worked on sea turtle research and conservation projects. Her dream of making a difference in conservation led her to study Marine Biology and eventually co-found her own NGO.

Oporta-McCarthy emphasizes the importance of taking action and being our own heroes. She believes in empowering youth and children to make a difference in their own communities instead of waiting for external help. Her work in Costa Rica is a testament to the impact that individuals can have on conservation efforts.

In El Salvador, Ani Henriquez, Executive Director of Asociacion Procosta, is also working to save Hawksbill turtles. The turtles in the eastern Pacific, including El Salvador, are among the most endangered sea turtle populations. Henriquez and her team have made significant progress in protecting the turtles and their nesting areas. Over the past 10 years, they have registered more than 3000 Hawksbill nests and increased the protection rate from 0% to 99% with the help of local communities. This highlights the importance of nesting areas for Hawksbill turtle populations in the Eastern Pacific.

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