Chiriquí Beach in Bocas del Toro Province, Panama, is historically considered to be the most important nesting beach in the Caribbean for hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata
The dramatic reduction of hawksbills at Chiriquí Beach and throughout their entire range was mainly due to hunting, particularly to supply the international trade in tortoiseshell. Nesting has declined 98% since the 1950s.
The hawksbill is currently listed as a critically endangered species by IUCN. On the other hand, the presence of some three to five thousand leatherback nests (Dermochelys coriacea
) on Chiriquí Beach every year makes this the second-most important leatherback nesting site in the Caribbean after Trinidad.
Chiriquí beach is part of the Damani-Isla Escudo de Veraguas Wetlands Reserve, a protected area of approximately 24,000 hectares designated by the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous territory, which includes coral reef, tropical rainforest and mangroves.
The natural resources of the Chiriquí Beach region are important assets for the development of two Ngöbe communities, Río Caña and Río Chiriquí, located at opposite ends of the beach, which decided in recent years to protect the marine turtles.
The regular sea turtle monitoring and protection project was initiated in 2003 by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation
and a large group of local, national and international project partners and donors as part of the Hawksbill Turtle Research and Population Recovery Project at Chiriqui Beach, Escudo de Veraguas Island, Nö Kribo region, Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca and Isla Bastimentos Marine National Park
. The project aims to monitor and recover the region's nesting sea turtles through permanent community participation.
In its first two-year phase, this project aimed to consolidate the conservation and recovery of sea turtles at Chiriquí Beach, by linking conservation efforts with improvements in the livelihoods of their custodians.
The Ngöbe community sees in their natural resources, including the marine turtles, a tourist attraction, but at the same time they are concerned about the negative aspects of uncontrolled tourism. In response to this concern, WWF and partners facilitated an informed conceptualization of the kind of the tourism that the community wishes to receive.
The approach included visits to other sea turtle tourism projects, capacity building in aspects related to the operation of ecotourism and the preparation of a feasibility study and business plan.
There is currently no tourism to this locality.
In addition, the project seeked to secure the regular monitoring and protection of the sea turtle populations that come to nest, begun in 2003 by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (www.cccturtle.org
) through permanent community participation.
Thus, this social initiative includes conservation, research and natural resource management tasks. It involves strengthening community organization and preparation of a participatory plan for the conservation and development of the natural heritage associated with the sea turtles of Chiriquí Beach.
After having acquired the informed consent of the local communities, personnel from CoopeSoliDar (www.coopesolidar.org
) leaded the design and coordination of workshops with the local stakeholders, to create a work plan that reflected everyone’s knowledge, visions, interests, values, commitments and roles. See results of the workshops in spanish
Equity was the ruling principle, in the participation and the preparation of the conservation and development plan
, as well as in access to the benefits the initiative might generate.
The alliance between WWF, Caribbean Conservation Corporation and CoopeSoliDar intended for this local conservation and development model, whose cornerstone is the sea turtles, to generate pertinent lessons for other coastal communities in Latin American and the Caribbean.
The social component of this project was funded by the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung.
This project is no longer being supported by WWF.