Well, it turns out many people in Nicaragua eat sea turtles and their eggs even though it is illegal, there isn’t much regulation. At first it was really devastating to hear as an environmental education volunteer, and while it’s still devastating, I understand that eating sea turtle eggs is a tradition that has been passed down for generations, specifically on the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific. Since learning about this cultural norm, I’ve been asking many people in my community of all ages why they eat sea turtle eggs and if they are aware that sea turtles are an endangered species. I usually hear a local go on and on about how good the taste of sea turtle eggs are with lime and chili and I definitely cringe every time they tell me this, however, I have also learned that many locals depend on selling turtle eggs as their main source of income.
Sea Turtles serve a vital role in the health of the marine and dune ecosystem by being one of the few marine animals that eat sea grass. This is important because as the sea turtles eat the sea grass they keep it healthy and allow the grass beds to spread across the ocean floor, where other marine species such as crustaceans, shellfish and other fish species develop homes and nests. There has been a big decline in sea grass beds and scientists say this can be due to the decline in sea turtles. So the less sea turtles, the less sea grass beds and ultimately the less biodiversity in the ocean overall.
Shrinking sea turtle populations also effects the health of the dune ecosystems. When sea turtles are ready to lay their eggs, they will find an area on the beach or dune and the unhatched eggs, hatchlings and eggshells leftover provide nutrients to the vegetation growing on the dunes. With more nutrients we get stronger plants, with stronger plants we get stronger roots, which leads to healthier and stronger dune ecosystems that will suffer less erosion. With the rise in consumption of sea turtles and their eggs, our dune ecosystems are suffering immensely.
So how can we conserve one of the oldest species on the planet?
Relocating eggs to sanctuaries
Turtle liberation events
All of the things listed above support positive behavior change, the most difficult and impactful change that can occur in conservation and development work.
After realizing how much my town enjoyed eating sea turtle eggs, an endangered species, and living close to the pacific coast, I was conflicted as an environment volunteer; it was a challenge. However, I used this obstacle as inspiration for my sea turtle conservation project that I facilitated with the help of my teachers and a local NGO. A group of 20 students, 3 teachers and myself coordinated a sea turtle conservation day that consisted of an outdoor classroom setting where we showed the students the sea turtle sanctuary and nest area, as well as explained the life cycle of the sea turtles and why they are endangered. By the end of the day, my students and teachers understood how the consumption of turtle eggs correlated to their decline and endangerment as a species; What once stood out to me as a cultural norm that could not be changed turned into an opportunity for education and discussion.
With strong motivation, creativity, and teamwork I have found the challenges that are presented to you as a Peace Corps volunteer become your best projects and relationship building moments during service.