Panama in 2009
All the Leatherback turtle projects we either manage or supervise had record nesting numbers this season, a wonderful turnaround from the recent years when the beaches were unprotected and littered with the carcases of slaughtered turtles.
Soropta beach counted over 550 nests, the highest yet. Poaching was less severe this year owing to the absence of The Prince, a famous poacher from further along the beach, who was drowned in the floods in the early part of the year. Managing Soropta on your own is a difficult and demanding job and we were fortunate to have such a good leader and biologist as Ana Maria Vasquez from Colombia. It is excellent news that she is coming back to Soropta in 2010. As usual, we employed guards from Finca 60, a nearby banana plantation, and 8 local people were employed by the project.
While we were being flooded at Pacuare, heavy rains were also causing floods in Panama. The Changuinola river, which reaches the sea near to our Soropta station, became so powerful that it washed away the big spit of sand which formed a large part of the nesting beach we protected. In order to cover the same length of beach, we had to patrol a further 3 kms to the East, making the patrols longer to cover the same length of beach.
Volunteers and visitors to Soropta come mainly from nearby Bocas del Toro, many at short notice for a night or two, but not long enough to be of support to the resident team. Soropta is a difficult project to manage. It is isolated, and bringing food or people from Bocas is very expensive but it is most important that we maintain it.
Soropta was the worst of the killing beaches until we set up the project to protect and patrol the beach in 2001. It led the way to the protection of the adjoining beaches San San and Sixaola, both of which are subsidized by Rainforest Concern and supervised by our Mexican biologist Cristina, though run by the local communities.
On the Sixaola beach, which is isolated and inaccessible, a good local man, Huascar, has been trained to work with turtles, and he has recruited and trained 6 other locals to work on the beach during the season. They are paid for every night they patrol and they are glad of the chance to earn a salary in an area where no work is available.
Huascar and his team counted 520 leatherback nests this season, the highest number since we started. San San recorded nearly 450 leatherback nests, making a total of over 1500 nests for the 20 kms of the three mainland beaches which stretch South-west from the Costa Rican border.
There is a fourth beach we protect, Playa Larga, quite separate from the others as it is on the island of Bastamentos. It is a lovely short golden beach facing onto the open sea and is visited by Hawksbill turtles as well as Leatherbacks. Isobel Petersen from the US ran the project this year, supported by a local Research Assistant.
Life is basic on Playa Larga. Unlike Soropta, there is no cook or flush toilets. Food is brought from Bocas once a week. Volunteers love this simple Robinson Crusoe life. They recorded 135 leatherbacks.
Panama continues to be a great success story and vital to the survival of the Leatherback. People reading this please think about making a donation via Rainforest Concern to help fund this work. If you want to get really involved, think about volunteering (see links under Costa Rica and Panama on the left) or just email Carlos Fernandez.