BY GEORGINA ZAMORA
Sea turtles are ﬂagship species; they belong to that group of magniﬁcent and charismatic animals that represent campaigns around the world and are symbols of entire communities, just like whales, eagles, or elephants. This does not mean that they are more important than other species, but practically everyone sympathizes with them. As an educator, I have always thought that they are animals that facilitate my job, since they rapidly connect people to their environment and encourage the creation of consciousness. In Bocas del Toro and the Indigenous regions (Comarcas) we have sea turtles; we even have several species, but what we really lack is awareness…
The marine turtle spawning in these zones began in the month of March and will end in October, with the regular visit of the Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) and Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata); in rare occasions green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) can be seen. Four of the seven species that exist in the world choose this special place to do this task; and it is important to respect their decision. After all, they were here before us, weren’t they?
The reproductive biology of sea turtles is complex; a nesting female can lay her eggs several times in the same season and then go for 2 or 3 years to regain strength at the feeding zones. For example, the Leatherback can nest up to eleven times in the beaches of Bocas and the Comarca and then travel to the Golf of Mexico, U.S.A, and even Canada in search of jellyﬁsh. In the year 2015, a turtle of a certain species that nested at Chiriqui Beach of the Comarca, was rescued from a net on the Italian coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Every year, the Sea Turtle Conservancy places satellite transmitters on various females. This information is registered on our online program www.tourdeturtles.org, where we can follow the migration path of the diﬀerent species that nest in these areas. This gives us information about what happens in their natural habitat; the ocean.
The Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles choose diﬀerent beaches in the Bocas del Toro Province and the Comarca for their nesting; some of the most important beaches are Chiriqui, for both species, Soropta Beach for the Leatherback and the National Marine Park of Isla Bastimentos for the Hawksbill.
It is not a coincidence that in recent years the number of nests has diminished on the beaches where there is more of a human presence. Construction, using motor vehicles and human activity during nesting time alter the beach conditions and contribute to its deterioration. For example, at Bluﬀ Beach (Municipal Reserve), even if sometimes its seasonal, there is serious damage in the vegetation line of the beach, a natural coverage and barrier that not only protects the turtles from the artiﬁcial lights but also is the habitat and nourishment for a multitude of species. It protects the ground, holds back the water and refreshes the environment, and does many more important functions. This nesting beach is not the
only one in the zone that is protected by law. Chiriqui Beach (Wetland of International Importance Damani – Guaribiara), Escudo de Veraguas (Protected Landscape Degó), Soporta Beach (Wetland of International Importance San San Pond Sack) and the Bastimentos National Marine Park are a couple more examples.
In natural conditions, it is estimated that 1 of each 1000 neonates reaches its sexual maturity at 15 to 20 years old of age. But incidental ﬁshing, the consumption and commerce of its meat, eggs, or shells, as also the lighting pollution, the destruction of habitats, the marine trash, the change in the weather all aﬀect the sea turtles at a local and global level and cause the survival possibilities to decrease even more.
The 7 species of sea turtles, and also many more, are in danger of becoming extinct. Please, let’s remember that humans are just another habitat of this planet so let’s all live in a humble and respectful manner. Hopefully we are not remembered as the ﬁrst species to selfdestruct. Let’s trust that we will know how to do it better.