This post is one of a series on projects supported by the New England Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF). Through MCAF, the Aquarium supports researchers, conservationists, and grassroots organizations around the world as they work to address the most challenging problems facing the ocean.

MCAF Grantee, Clemente Balladares, Coordinador Programas Conservación

Dirección General de Diversidad Biológica MinEC-Venezuela-Caracas is leading a team with Provita Venezuela to preserve the reproduction of sea turtles that takes place in the Gulf of Paria in Venezuela and learn about the challenges these critical species and their nesting sites face. note: This blog has been backdated for archival purposes.

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Macuro. Sea Turtles Conservation in the Paria Gulf, Venezuela.

By Clemente Balladares

Marine turtles are living Jurassic remains, which nowadays are seven endangered species all around the oceans according the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. One of the most threatened is the hawksbills turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) due to her beautiful shell, which is hunted for jewelry and craftworks, plus the red meat and the ping pong size eggs as a source of protein. The two other biggest species are long range migratory reptiles, like the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), the first one can travel from her nesting grounds in the southern Caribbean Seas in spring to the further north waters of Canada in the summer of each year.

Many rookeries of the world support hundreds of thousands of nests specially in the Atlantic beaches of Costa Rica, French Guyana, Cabo Verde and Gabon. Many of those places have been protected for more than 30 years with remarkable positive results. Nevertheless, small rookeries are still at risk due to poaching, oil spills, habitat destruction and plastic littering, those impacts have made a concerning decrease in nesting trends over the last 15 years. One of those sites is located in Venezuela over several tiny beaches at the eastern tip of the Paria National Park, near the frontier coast with Trinidad and Tobago.

Hawksbill nester at Los Garzos. Season 2012.
Photo Credit: Luis J. Cova

Macuro, a fishermen village with less than a thousand settlers is the last eastern town of Venezuela, which was the place where Christopher Columbus ships reached the American continent for the first time in 1498.

In the year 2003 the Venezuelan Environment Ministry detected an alarming poaching activity higher than 88% of the nests in the main reproductive beach. A program was started to control the furtive hunting for hawksbills and leatherback which laid her eggs on five main nesting sites. Results through daily patrolling beaches and environmental education of the settlers brought a reduction until 7% in 2012.

Field camp at the main nesting beach Los Garzos in 2011 with the local team and volunteer

After a first successful decade, the Venezuelan socioeconomic crisis of the year 2013 reduced funds up to almost zero at present times. Fortunately, funding started to come through from private donors and philanthropists. The work continued, and in 2015 the poaching reached a record minimum of less than 1%, but new threats like the destruction of one of the main beaches habitat and a large oil spill in 2017 did a lot of harm to the program.

Since 2020 we have received some financing by Non-Government Organizations from the United States, like SEE Turtles (the money is managed through Provita). As we all know 2021 is a year of many challenges. We are in need of a bigger budget in order to maintain our program running which we all know will not be easy but not impossible, especially with the much needed help from the New England Aquarium Marine Action Conservation Fund.

Leatherback nester with Clemente on Los Garzos beach. 2005.

The Macuro Project is being led by marine biologist Clemente Balladares, who received the Energy Globe Award in 2020 as a remarkable national initiative. Together with a local team, support of the community of the town and several allies like and the Environment Ministry, they are working to preserve this ancient and key ecological species.