Poachers Threaten Turtle Sanctuary in Guatemala

October 27, 2006

SIPACATE, Guatemala – One of Guatemala’s largest sanctuaries for endangered sea turtles, the Poza del Nance Lagoon on the Pacific coast, is under siege from poachers who steal the creatures’ eggs – a local delicacy – and sell them to restaurants in the capital.

Surrounded by mangroves, the Poza del Nance Lagoon, located in Sipacate-NaranjoNational Park some 173 kilometers south of the capital, has become a paradise for sea turtles.

But now it is being threatened. Along the lagoon’s 20-kilometer length, the National Council on Protected Areas, or CONAP, has created several refuges to protect the turtles, which lay their eggs on the beach between August and December.

Starting Oct. 15, CONAP banned the harvesting of sea-turtle eggs for the first time in Guatemala due to fears that the creatures were headed for extinction.

During a tour of the beach, large holes can be seen in the sand from where poachers steal eggs at night.

CONAP biologist Jose Luis López said that one of the species in serious danger of extinction is the leatherback turtle, of which only about 2,000 remain in the area and which was declared to be in peril due to the poaching of eggs and illegal hunting.

In addition to leatherbacks, there are several other types of endangered sea turtles, of which there are only seven species in the world, in this area.

CONAP started operating turtle nurseries in 1995 in an effort to protect the endangered creatures, and has released more than 18,000 hatchlings since then. Estimates, however, are that only one of every 100 survives, not returning to the beach until the age of 6 or 7.

On Oct. 17, 24 eggs from two olive ridley turtles that migrated from the coast of Mexico were found. The eggs are expected to hatch in early December.

The manager of the turtle nursery, Mario Ordoñez, said the hatchlings have to be released the same day they are born.

At the turtle nursery, which was created seven years ago, Ordoñez currently is caring for 2,472 eggs from 165 nests.

Egg harvesters are required to surrender 20% of their take to the turtle nurseries to ensure the survival of the species. Each turtle can lay up to 360 eggs each season.

López, the biologist, acknowledged that many of these people do not follow the rules and CONAP lacks the resources and personnel to patrol beaches and prevent the poaching of eggs, which are sold in Guatemala City and considered a nutritious appetizer by consumers.

Juan José Hidalgo, head of a turtle refuge in the Pacific village of El Mango, said poachers usually demanded food in exchange for the eggs but are now selling them because of the shortages on the market.

On the beaches, a dozen sea turtle eggs can be purchased for about $2, while two eggs cooked and ready to eat will go for more than $2.50 in Guatemala City.

The Monte Carlo Verde Foundation, as well as Guatemalan naval and police units, are patrolling the beaches with CONAP personnel to protect sea turtles that lay their eggs in Sipacate.


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