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  • Laura Monti

Ancestral Tides Working to Conserve Coastal Ecosystems & Protect Sea Turtles

Photos by Amazon Conservation Team.

Ancestral Tides gathering with leaders from indigenous coastal communities from Mexico, Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica.

Borderlands Restoration Network Senior Fellow Laura Monti traveled with Comcaac sea turtle conservation leader Mayra Estrella Astorga and Gary Nabhan to the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica to join leaders from indigenous local coastal communities from Mexico, Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica including the Comcaac, Guna Yala, Emberá, Kogui, Kamëntsá, and Kofan tribes. The gathering, led by Amazon Conservation Team was convened July 10-15, 2022 to launch a new initiative coined, Ancestral Tides, to protect coastal ecosystems and sea turtles by connecting indigenous-led conservation efforts and revitalizing associated indigenous knowledge.

Pablo Chindoy of Colombia’s Kamëntsá people and Universario Queta of Colombia’s Kofán people with Gary Nabhan, Playa Preciosa-Platanares, Costa Rica. 

Sea turtles, a species emblematic of the connection between the two great biomes the desert and tropical rainforests, are an indicator of the health of marine and coastal ecosystems. Utilizing both indigenous knowledge and western scientific traditions, the indigenous sea turtle conservation communities exchanged knowledge and strategies to simultaneously conserve these coastal ecosystems and sea turtles while revitalizing associated cultural traditions.

Sea turtle hatchling release in Playa Preciosa-Platanares, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

In Comcaac territory of northern Mexico, sea turtle nesting season began in July on a remote coastal inlet near the tiny village of Desemboque located on the eastern side of the Gulf of California. Throughout the night, a team of Comcaac youth scoured 20 kilometers of desert coastline to locate sea turtle nests and transport the eggs back to a sea turtle nursery located outside the village. The majority of nesting turtles are Olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), one of five species of sea turtles that migrate to the large seagrass beds of Zostera marina in the Infiernillo Channel.

Mayra Estrella, leader of the Grupo Tortuguero Comcaac, Desemboque Team, Mexico.

Far to the south on the Pacific rainforest coastline of La Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, the Hawksbill sea turtles begin their nesting in May. The local sea turtle conservation group also spends nights patrolling the local beaches for sea turtle eggs, releasing thousands of tiny hatchlings from the nursery 55 days later.

Manuel Sanchez, Costa Rica Team Leader.

The giant Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), an endangered species that is also sacred to the Comcaac community, is rarely seen in their northern waters. However, along the rainforest beaches along the Caribbean coast of Panama the Guna Yala tribe protects the nests of thousands of Leatherbacks which they consider a sister species.

Rangel Grajales, Emberá people, Panama.
Ignacio Crespo, Guna Yala Team, Panama.

Further south along the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the Kogui tribe are revitalizing their knowledge of coastal conservation and sea turtle protection as they steward mountain and coastal territory in the Sierra Nevada, the world’s tallest coastal mountain range, which provides bountiful food sources and also holds great cultural and spiritual significance for them.

José Shibulata, a leader and high priest of the Kogui people, Colombia. 
The Amazon Conservation Team, Indigenous representatives, and friends.

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