Sea Turtle Conservation
Sea Turtle Conservation Is In Our Hands: Helping El Salvador’s Endangered Species
By: Jessica Feldspar
Photos: Lucas Paolo Krainz, Simon Melnyk
We stand at the water’s edge, each person gently holding a recently hatched sea turtle. We are about to release them into the ocean. The hatchlings are practicing swimming in mid-air – instinct and nature taking over before they are even 24 hours old. Their short lives have already been profoundly affected by humans and their futures will be even more so.
45 nights ago their mother laid her eggs here, on this same beach where she was born about 15 years ago. These eggs were collected by tortugueros (sea turtle egg collectors) and were given over to the incubation hatchery managers for their protection. These managers, or viveristas, are hired, trained and monitored by FUNZEL – the Zoological Foundation of El Salvador to care for the eggs and release the baby turtles.
Since 2008, FUNZEL has established more than 15 incubation hatcheries that receive eggs from more than 44 beaches in El Salvador. They have released more than 3 million sea turtle hatchlings from the Leatherback, Hawksbill (both critically endangered), Green (endangered) and Olive Ridley (vulnerable) species. But sea turtle conservation benefits more than the turtles, it also provides hundreds of Salvadoran families with an opportunity to earn a sustainable living. During the egg laying season (June to November) the tortugueros are out on the beach every night waiting for female turtles, taking care not to disturb the nesting process or the mother will return to the ocean without laying her eggs. After she has finished, the tortugueros remove the eggs from the unprotected beach and bring them to the hatchery where they will be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until they hatch. The tortugueros also provide vital information and data regarding the nesting female and this data is used for population studies. For these services, the tortugueros are paid – enough money to feed their families on something other than sea turtle eggs and to keep them from selling eggs on the black market. In this way, along with education programs, FUNZEL has enticed tortugueros to participate in conservation efforts. FUNZEL is now working on the next step of conservation by steadily developing eco-tourism in the coastal communities through release programs and educational programs at their many sanctuaries.
For this reason, national and international tourists play an integral role in the success of this program. By visiting the beaches where FUNZEL has incubation hatcheries and participating in a sea turtle hatchling release, volunteering in a beach clean-up, or spreading the word when you return to your home country, tourists become a part of the conservation program. Here in El Salvador, we have an incredible opportunity to save the sea turtles and a daunting obligation. Recent studies have shown that 70% of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill population comes to nest in El Salvador. This makes the act of releasing a hatchling into the ocean all the more powerful.
For the last 45 days, these critically endangered animals have been protected and cared for. Now we will release them. Some people name their baby sea turtle; others wish it a safe journey with a prayer or poem. Now is the time to release. As we watch the hatchlings swim through the surf, we all become lost in our thoughts. Looking out to the ocean, we think of the future - ours and the future of this incredible creature. We have made a difference and will continue to make a difference in their lives every day. It’s up to us to make sure that difference is a positive one.
To schedule a sea turtle hatchling release (happening regularly throughout September/October), find out about volunteer opportunities and/or programmed events, or receive more information about this and other conservation programs in El Salvador, please contact:
The Zoological Foundation of El Salvador - FUNZEL
Tel. (503) 2211-8044
Email Contacts: (Both speak English and Spanish)
Ada Elena Ramirez –
Carol Simonson –