Monday, January 24, 2011

Turtle Time at the Flower Refuge Part 1

Eco ocean recently visited Nicaragua and enjoyed some inspiring interaction with the local marine fauna. This is Part 1 of 4. 

I finished up a glass of La Flor de Cana or the Cane Flower, neat, and walked the sandy road to the Hostel with the tall wood doors. I’ve been drinking the smooth as silk Nicaraguan rum in crumbling colonial cities and coastal towns throughout the country. It comes dark and light in various ages. The fancier places have fifteen and twenty year old aged Flor de Cana. Yet everyone from the Pacific to the Caribbean coast has tasted the seven year old at least once it seems.

Earlier, I paid five hundred Cordobas, about twenty five dollars, and signed up for a sea turtle tour that started well after sundown. It did not escape me that the Cordoba was a Chrysler model from the late seventies sporting a huge engine block, plush maroon Corinthian leather seats, and rims that would make any pimp do a double take.

Ricardo Montalban of Fantasy Island fame hawked these monsters in TV commercials as his career waned. I can hear him, his faux high-brow Spanish accent “fine Corinthian leather” as easily as I can hear “welcome to Fantasy Island”. I’ll bet Corinthian leather was something completely fabricated in a marketing meeting. On my walk over to the hostel, I wondered if Ricardo could grant my fantasy to see some sea turtles this evening.

The five hundred Cordoba payment only guarantees that I might see turtles. It does get me a guide, shared with a group of about twenty, a lecture of sorts about the turtles complete with an educational video, and probably most important, a ride to the Refugio de Vida Silvestra La Flor, often just called the Flower Refuge.

It would appear the theme is flowers but it really has to be sea turtles or Tortuga, because the spirit of the Tortuga thrives in Nicaragua. Stylized imagery of the turtles are ever present throughout the country -- in colorful silk-screens, on postcards, painted on walls, fashioned in ceramics, dazzling in mosaics, and swimming in ironwork on a front door gate.

Some of the largest nesting sites in the world fall on Nicaragua’s beaches, places where thousands of turtles come ashore in one night.  The rarest turtles like leatherback and hawksbill swim in the waters lining both sides of the country. Up the largely undeveloped Caribbean or Mosquito Coast, near places like Pearl Lagoon and Orinoco, Garifuna people still actively fish for and eat the turtles. Unfortunately, that way of life is unsustainable.

That’s why the Wildlife Conservation Society has outposts in these remote Caribbean areas. These locations are far from where the society is based in the Bronx, New York City. All the sea turtles there were chased out or killed, quickly or slowly, over two hundred years ago.

From their small field offices in Nicaragua, WCS scientists try to teach people that taking large adult turtles from the fishery at a pace faster than they can reproduce means eventually they will all disappear. Hopefully, the word is getting out.

Apparently, the WCS program to trade fishermen a new life jacket for fifteen live sea turtles is working.  Still, turtles need more lifesaving. Live, wild turtles are not only ancient and beautiful beasts, but they are also an integral part of the Nicaraguan identify as well the marine ecosystem, and a huge tourism draw.

Read more about the refuge.

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