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Project details

Save sea turtles through ecotourism in Panama Panama , RUN BY: Sea Turtle Conservancy | STATUS: COMPLETED

This project is 100% Funded



USD 15,011

Raised from 6,796 people

Project background

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has been working at several locations in the Bocas del Toro Province of Panama since 2003 to monitor and protect endangered sea turtle nesting populations. The region sees globally-important levels of nesting by critically-endangered hawksbill turtles and leatherback turtles. Nesting is concentrated at several relatively undeveloped beaches spread around the archipelago of Bocas del Toro.

Among these beaches is Playa Bluff – the only beach accessible by car or bike from the town of Bocas. This proximity makes turtles nesting here highly vulnerable to hunting by illegal poachers, many of whom are members of the indigenous community of Ngobe-Bugle Indians living along this coastline. 

Since STC began its work in the region 15 years ago, nesting by both Hawksbills and Leatherbacks seas turtles has been increasing. This is very good news that bodes well for the future of these endangered turtle populations. One unforeseen problem is that illegal turtle hunters in the region also see the increasing numbers of turtles, and this has made the turtles easier for poachers to find and exploit.

STC’s strategy, is to work with the local community to show everyone how turtles can be more valuable alive than dead by developing sustainable ecotourism based on the nesting turtles. The proximity of the town of Bocas opens opportunities to bring a steady stream of tourists to Playa Bluff to observe turtles nesting at night for a fee.

This venture can employ numerous local community members and generate sustainable income for the community that is greater and more sustainable than the money generated by killing turtles for their eggs, meat and shells. STC has considerable experience setting up such programs in Costa Rica and at other beaches in Panama, so we are confident this project will be successful as well.

Project aims

  • Eliminate illegal poaching of sea turtles that nest at Playa Bluff, Panama.
  • Develop an ecotourism program based on nesting turtles that provides an alternative, sustainable source of income for the local community.
  • Initiate a long-term turtle monitoring and protection program at Bluff Beach that is carried out by members of the local indigenous community. 

Project objectives

  1. Select and teach indigenous community members the proper techniques to take tourists on guided sea turtle nesting walks.
  2. Develop a model for ecotourism at Bluff Beach that employs local community members and directs funding to benefit the community.
  3. Promote sea turtle tourism in the town of Bocas del Toro to capitalize on the presence of tourists who visit the region to surf and explore the local environment.
  4. Train a select group of local community members how to track sea turtle nesting, mark nests and collect scientifically accurate data to be shared with STC for long-term tracking of sea turtle health and abundance at Playa Bluff. 
  5. Conduct community education activities to generate broad awareness about the threats facing sea turtles locally at Bluff Beach – and also about the value in protecting turtles rather than hunting them.

Project outcomes

  • Two species of endangered sea turtles nesting in Panama will benefit from reduced hunting pressure. By the end of the project, the number of turtles illegally poached at Playa Bluff will be reduced. 
  • A local community of indigenous Indians living near Playa Bluff will benefit from a sustainable ecotourism model that provides income for the community while also protecting endangered turtles that are an important part of the local ecosystem.
  • A long-term nest monitoring and turtle protection program will be implemented at Playa Bluff, which will provide critical ongoing information about the health and status of nesting Hawksbill and Leatherback sea turtles. 

Project costs

The $15,000 raised through the Footprints Network will go towards:

  • Salary for Project Manager
  • Payments to local turtle guides (needed until tourism revenue begins to be generate at sufficient levels)
  • Storefront rental in Bocas del Toro – this site will be used to promote turtle tours at Playa Bluff and conduct administration for the project
  • Transportation to and from Playa Bluff
  • Food for nesting monitors and tour guides
  • Training and nest monitoring supplies
  • Printing and distribution of promotional materials

Project partners and community involvement

The most significant partners in this project will be numerous members of the local community of indigenous Ngobe-Bugle Indians, who will be hired and trained by STC to conduct turtle tours and help with nest monitoring and protection activities. 

Part of a larger strategy

For 60 years, STC has conducted sea turtle research and protection on the Caribbean coast of Central America. This project fits well with the organization’s long-term strategies and goals for sea turtle recovery. Sea turtles are especially vulnerable to illegal poaching in the region – an activity that is often conducted out of necessity to generate income in areas where there are few other prospects for employment.

By initiating ecotourism based on the ability to take tourists to see nesting turtles, communities can be shown that turtles are worth more alive than dead – and that the income will be sustainable. STC has initiated exactly this sort of strategy at places like Tortuguero, Costa Rica, a community that hosts the largest nesting population of green turtles in the world. Once hunted nearly to extinction, the population is now very robust and healthy because the community has turned to ecotourism rather than turtle hunting as a source of income. We will achieve the same results at Playa Bluff, Panama.

How was this funded?

Thanks to hundreds of tiny donations from these online businesses and their customers.

Travel Insurance Direct AU
Travel Insurance Direct NZ
WorldNomads Australia
WorldNomads NZ
World Nomads UK
World Nomads Global
World Nomads Europe
World Nomads Ireland
Sea Turtle Conservancy

It is the mission of Sea Turtle Conservancy to ensure the survival of sea turtles within the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific through research, education, training, advocacy and protection of the natural habitats upon which they depend.