Cūra Earth is excited to report that we are currently in El Salvador working on our first season with sea turtles! This research has two sites, one here on the beautiful island of San Sebastian with the nonprofit ICAPO (hawksbill.org) and another in Reserva Padre Ramos, Nicaragua, with Fauna and Flora International-Nicaragua. We were excited to have our first hawksbill nest while we were here last night.
This research program is the first in these countries to look at the health of nesting hawksbill sea turtles, one of the most endangered sea turtle species in the world. We will be collecting blood and tissue samples to look at general health of the sea turtles (complete blood counts and blood biochemistries) as well as heavy metal toxins and persistent organic pollutants such as BPA. Sea turtles are excellent indicators of the overall health of their ecosystem. In addition, we hope this will become a long term project, including expanding to other sites in Central America, in order to look at whether these toxins affect reproductive success, contribute to other disease, longevity, or behavior.
In order to get these samples, we rely on the trance that sea turtles go into while laying eggs. The turtles wait until high tide to nest. Individuals patrol the beaches, then call a coordinator when they find a nesting sea turtle. We then hop in a boat and get there as fast as we can. The response team is then responsible for doing an exam, measuring the turtle, drawing blood, taking tissue biopsies, and if possible getting a fecal sample (many sea turtles don’t eat before laying eggs). We also look for external parasites, such as leeches or barnacles.
We are especially excited to be working with the veterinary school here in El Salvador, and are working with 5 students to provide training in sea turtle medicine, reptile blood analysis, and research methods. This is exactly the type of program Cūra Earth was founded for- research as well as capacity building in Central America. Our hope is that next year one or more of these students- then graduated veterinarians- may be able to conduct the research with our oversight.