Sea Turtles… Friends or Food?

Culture, Education, Environment, Peace Corps, Travel

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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?

Educational events

Beach patrolling

Relocating eggs to sanctuaries

Turtle liberation events

Campaigns

Eco-tourism

Government Regulation

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.

Nica Pride, Fiestas Patrias

Peace Corps

Young girls and boys dressed in traditional nicaraguan clothes of all colors, marching, music, dancing and a whole lot of pride for this charming country. This is the atmosphere on September 14th during Nicaragua’s Independence Day and September 15th during the Independence day of all of Central America.

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(My adorable students in their dresses dishing out a subtle pout and displaying some national flowers)

Weeks before the holidays you can hear band practice and bombas (fireworks) happening. The schools in our city and cities all over Nicaragua practice for several hours trying to perfect the instrumental version of Despacito and many other popular songs in Latin America at the moment, I was super impressed by how many songs they were able to play and how many I recognized. I’ve been listening to Reggaeton ever since I landed in Nicaragua and I can’t seem to stop… but I’m not complaining!

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(Handmade dresses like these! The people here are so crafty, I can only imagine how long this must have taken.)

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(One of my students, Adriana, rocking her outfit and glasses and her profe (teacher) fan-girling.)

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(Gabriela and Samuel, does this need any further explanation? I think not, they are the cutest.)

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(Student Maria)

It’s weird to think I’ll be celebrating Nicaragua’s Independence Day three times during my service and that I’ll be here for so long but I couldn’t be more excited. Ready for Nicaragua to become my second home; it’s already starting to feel like it 🙂

26 Days in Nicaragua So Far

Peace Corps

It was not too long ago I was day dreaming in one of my last college classes about what Nicaragua was going to feel like, what kind of weather I would experience, what kind of people I would meet. Fast forward a couple of months, I’ve graduated college and have also just landed in Managua, Nicaragua. I brought 2 massive suitcases each weighing precisely 50 pounds (the max limit) and my backpacker’s bag that I somehow managed to squeeze into the plane as a carry-on. Other than these 3 items, I brought heaps of curiosity and an open mind to take on this new adventure. Our first 3-day orientation took place in the hotel directly across the street from the airport in Managua, little did we know this was going to be the most luxurious place we’d stay in for the rest of our 2 years in Nicaragua. During this time, we all made an effort to get to know our group of 38 trainees that make up the TEFL (English) and Environment sector of Nica 70 (the 70th group of Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua). I knew I had been placed somewhere special after our group one night at dinner ordered water for the table and not only did they not mind my suggestion to order without plastic straws, but rather loved the idea and encouraged it at every meal. A burden I once felt I was by being the voice of ecological reason had been lifted and for a change I felt supported and heard, it felt so right.

Over the course of the next 3 days at the orientation retreat every volunteer was bombarded with safety measures, medical handbooks and kits, cellphone chips, Spanish grammar books, Spanish dictionaries, environmental classroom guides, cultural workbooks and so much more. It was information for hours and hours every day along with language interviews and placement. We also got to meet current volunteers who have been in Nicaragua for a year now; many of them living in several different departments scattered all over Nicaragua. On the third and final day of our retreat we were all sent off to different “pueblitos” or towns in Carazo to move into the homes of families we will be sharing a home and culture with for the next 3 months of pre-service training.

Diriamba, Carazo is the department I am situated in, a fairly populated city with accessible grocery stores, restaurants and bars, the complete opposite of some other sites some Peace Corps trainees are living in. I am living with Doña Yeseñia and her two daughters, Daniela and Alejandra. This family has been totally supportive of my vegan diet and the girls remind me of my sister and I. It feels home-y. There are 4 other volunteers living here in Diriamba and attending language classes with me, Britton, Anna, Henry and Ozzy, my familia and support group. We have become pretty close, that’s kind of what happens when you bond over diarrhea and the lack of running water in your life. We watch movies, go on runs together, get cat-called together and work together and I wouldn’t have it any other way, except maybe the cat-calling we could all do without.

We are coming up on week 4 of Pre-Service Training, leaving us with 8 more weeks before our swearing in ceremony when we become official volunteers!