Guatemalan Armed Forces Protect, Conserve Imperiled Turtle Eggs

Guatemalan Armed Forces Protect, Conserve Imperiled Turtle Eggs

By Dialogo
December 16, 2015

As part of the Military's efforts to conserve the country's ecological treasures, the Guatemalan Armed Forces are harvesting, protecting, and conserving Lora and Parlama turtle eggs, which are considered delicacies by marine predators and humans.

The conservation efforts by Guatemala's Pacific Naval Command are supported by its Marine Turtle Rescue Center and by turtle sanctuaries that the Armed Forces have established at various military installations. The Rescue Center is dedicated to collecting the eggs the turtles lay annually between July and November.

Once service members collect the eggs, they are taken to a turtle sanctuary at a Naval installation where they are buried in a manner similar to how female turtles lay their eggs. Burying the eggs hides them from predators, such as birds, fish, and raccoons, and keeps them safe from those who traffic turtle eggs.

When born, the baby turtles, who take between 45 and 50 days to hatch depending on ground temperature, are taken to the beach and released by Military members, children, and adults who are part of the Armed Forces' educational initiative.

The Armed Forces' conservation efforts have helped maintain the abundance of Parlama turtles in Guatemala since 1990, according to Airam López, chief of the National Council of Protected Areas' (Conap) Hydrobiological Resources Section.

“These centers have a 98 percent effectiveness rate because of how well they handle the nesting and hatching process – from the moment the egg is laid until the newborn turtles are released,” he added.

Scientific studies support conservation efforts

Researchers at the Marine Turtle Rescue Center have released scientific studies revealing that turtles return to nest in the same places where they are released as babies, which has allowed service members to increase the number of Parlama eggs harvested in recent years. In 2015, for example, service members rescued 15,042 eggs – almost all of which hatched – compared to rescuing several hundred eggs annually in the initiative's early years. A female turtle lays 100 to 125 eggs in her lifetime.

“This data clearly shows the positive effects that the Marine Turtle Rescue Center is having, since, according to scientific studies, turtles return to nest in the same place where they were released,” Brig. Gen. Rodríguez Cifuentes said.

Guatemala's Pacific Naval Command rescues and buries all the eggs it finds along 1,400 meters of internal beach that it owns between Barra de Sanjón Chilate in Puerto San José and the seawall owned by Portuaria Quetzal. In addition to promoting the hatching of eggs, the Armed Forces also check motor vehicles and fishing boats to look for turtle eggs that could be trafficked.

“The Pacific Naval Command’s beach is the only protected area in the country where the marine turtle can freely lay its eggs without the danger of human interference," Brig. Gen. Rodríguez Cifuentes said. "All eggs found are subsequently buried, while we constantly monitor the area for threats posed by people and animals."