© 2010 Heather Bessette

Environmental Project Update: Trabajando con Las Tortugas Marinas

Bustling crowds and the undulating chatter of negotiation and commerce surrounded us as we wound our way through the local city markets of Usulután and Zacatecoluca.  Passing local stalls overflowing with fresh fruit, produce, meat, herbs, school supplies, clothing, makeup, hardware, and more…it quickly became apparent that the markets are an exhaustive resource of organized chaos, providing for just about everything one would ever need.  But we were on a very specific mission: in search of turtle eggs.

There are four species of marine turtles that lay their eggs on the beaches of El Salvador – the Olive Riddle (la Golfina), Green (la Prieta), Hawksbill (la Carey), and the venerable Leatherback (el Baule).   Unfortunately, all four species are currently listed as critically endangered due to mixture of anthropological threats including loss of habitat, overexploitation, fishing activity (getting caught in nets), and pollution.  On February 3 of 2009, the El Salvadorian Ministry of the Environment (MARN) issued a country-wide ban on the sale of all turtle products, making it illegal to harvest turtles for their shells or their meat and prohibiting the extraction of turtle eggs for consumption and sale.

Our project team, Equipo Medio Ambiente, has been charged with exploring the socioeconomic impact the ban has had on the turtle egg harvesters and the many coastal communities and families that depend on turtle egg harvesting as an essential source of income.  Building on our project from last year, in which we created a demographic profile of the turtle harvesters (‘tortugeros’) and documented the turtle egg supply chain from harvest to sale, we hope that the information collected this year will help inform future decisions that MARN and other local organizations will make regarding the development of economic alternatives and the future of conservation efforts.

Despite the ban, we were successful in finding four vendors selling turtle eggs for $4.00, $4.50 and $5.00 per dozen – evidence that there is still a ‘black market’ channel at play.  Efforts over the next few days will be focused on interviewing the tortugeros themselves, for which we headed back home to prepare…but not without stopping first to fill our stomachs and souls with homemade, piping hot pupusas – fresh off the grill.  Not bad for a day in the office!


~ Equipo Medio Ambiente:  Alex, Pepper, Andrew, Amy, and our invaluable interpreter and translator, Deborah.

Usulután, El SalvadorAndrew and Amy Inspecting the turtle eggs in Usulután.

* Gorgeous photos courtesy of Ryan Gonzalez

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