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Sea Turtle Conservation Challenges and Strategies

All sea turtles – except the Australian flatback turtle – are listed in the IUCN Red List as Endangered or Vulnerable. Despite Mexico establishing laws in 1980 to protect the hawksbill sea turtle, the impact of human activity on these endangered reptiles is considerable and difficult to control, especially in remote reserves on the Yucatan peninsula such as Rio Lagartos and El Palmar.

hawksbill turtle returning to sea
Female Hawksbill turtle returns to sea after laying her eggs on land

A management and active conservation program to protect turtles in these areas is critical at a local level, helping to stimulate public awareness in the region regarding these animals that are otherwise expected to continue their decline to extinction. Only a few sites of aggregated nesting by hawksbills remain in the hemisphere.

sea turtle hatchlingYucatan Project Objectives

Carried out in collaboration with Europe Conservation and TETHYS, the Yucatan Project’s main purpose was to provide a long-term investigation for sea turtle conservation in two natural reserves considered to be among the last surviving tropical paradises. Here, the impact of human activities on these endangered reptiles remains difficult to control and evaluate.

sea turtle hatchlings being weighed sea turtle hatchling being released
Dr. Bearzi weighs sea turtle hatchlings
  Hatchlings are released into the ocean

Yucatan Dolphin Studies

The Yucatan Project also conducted a bottlenose dolphin study at the Rio Lagartos reserve to ascertain population presence, distribution, and relative abundance, which will contribute toward their conservation. The dolphin research also provided data on sighting frequency, group size, composition and behavior within this previously unstudied area.

Collaboration with Local Environmental Organizations

In the years 1992-1997, the Yucatan Project also conducted various studies in collaboration with the non-profit environmental organization Biocenosis (Merida, Yucatan). The collaborative effort collected additional data to help establish conservation strategies for the reserves. This data collection, conducted in El Palmar and Rio Lagartos Reserves, included coconut tree reforestation, census of butterflies, birds and dunal flora data collection, and hydrological studies in the “petenes”.

Yucatan Project volunteer team
The Yucatan Project volunteer team at El Palmar, Mexico

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