From the loss of volunteers to beaches being closed down, groups that work tirelessly to monitor and protect endangered sea turtles as they return to beaches to nest have been directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To support projects dedicated to protecting nesting turtles, nonprofit groups Turtle Island Restoration Network and SEE Turtles held a grant contest this summer, known as the Summer Sea Turtle Sustainability Grant, to offer nonprofit organizations around the world emergency funds. Forty-five nonprofit organizations applied to be eligible to receive the grant and more than 30,000 individuals from around the world voted for the group they wanted to receive the funds. 

One $5,000 grant was awarded to the Environment Society of Oman (ESO) for receiving the most votes. A second grant was given to Fundação Tartaruga, who was randomly selected to receive $1,000.

“It was a pleasure for Turtle Island Restoration Network to sponsor this grant to protect nesting sea turtles,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “While there were only two winners, we hope the tens of thousands of voters took the time to read and learn about the scores of great projects and dedicated conservationists working to protect sea turtles. We look forward to working with all 45 organizations and each participating voter to make nesting beaches and seas around the world safer for sea turtles.”

“SEE Turtles is thrilled to be able to partner with Turtle Island Restoration Network to provide needed funding for sea turtle projects around the world,” said Brad Nahill, president of SEE Turtles. “The Environment Society of Oman protects one of the most important loggerhead beaches in the world and we are glad to be able to help support their efforts.”

ESO’s mission is to help protect Oman’s natural heritage and influence environmentally sustainable behaviour through education, awareness and conservation. Grant funds will be used to organize a dedicated net cleanup on Masirah Island, one of the most important rookeries in the world for loggerhead sea turtles. In the past three years the group has removed 500 tonnes of nets from nesting beaches, saving nesting female sea turtles and hatchlings from being caught and entangled in discarded fishing gear and ingesting marine debris — a result of both small-scale and industrial fishing activities around the island.

“Oman has a vital role to play in global efforts to protect sea turtles. ESO’s Sea Turtle Research and Conservation project, established in 2008, and our annual net removal campaign, have been central to the protection of various species of sea turtles that nest on our shores. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our ability to raise the funding necessary to continue to support this important work,” said Suaad Al Harthi, ESO’s executive director. “We are overwhelmed by the support we have received, both locally and internationally, to secure this valuable grant. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Turtle Island Restoration Network and SEE Turtles for sponsoring this contest, and for ensuring that the protection of these critical marine species continues.”

Environment Society of Oman (ESO) clears fishing nets from the beaches Masirah Island, one of the most important rookeries in the world for loggerhead sea turtles. | Photo by ESO

The mission of Fundação Tartaruga is to contribute to sea turtle’s conservation at their own project sites by cooperating with local communities to create a future where both sea turtles and people can thrive. Grant funds will be used to implement an anti-poaching task force to their beach patrols in Boa Vista, Cape Verde consisting of a night vision drone and a conservation dog team — the more effective and dissuasive techniques for protecting nesting loggerhead sea turtles from poachers. In 2018, seventy sea turtles were killed on the beaches and in 2019 it reduced to 17. These results are mainly due to a combination of stricter legislation and the introduction of the new methods of beach monitoring.

“It was a big surprise for us that we have been selected to receive this grant, which is not only a valuable financial support but will also give a boost of popularity to our work. We are very proud and happy and we wish to thank Turtle Island Restoration Network and SEE Turtles for this important support in difficult times,” said Euclides Resende, CEO of Fundação Tartaruga. “Like many other places in the world, our island Boa Vista has been hit hard by the Corona pandemic, because many people lost their jobs in the tourism sector, but we are even more dedicated to continue our cooperation with local communities and to protect the Capeverdean sea turtles.”

Fundação Tartaruga’s conservation dog team patrols beaches for poachers in Boa Vista, Cape Verde. | Photo by Fundação Tartaruga

Sea turtle nesting beaches face threats from uncontrolled coastal development, vehicle traffic on beaches, and other human activities that have directly destroyed or disturbed sea turtle nesting beaches around the world. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many communities have closed beaches to the public, impacting groups that monitor beaches as sea turtles return to nest. Travel bans have caused organizations to lose volunteers and tourists who financially support projects.

Learn more about organizations that were eligible to receive the grant (listed in alphabetical order):

Anguilla National Trust – The Valley, Anguilla, British West Indies: The Anguilla National Trust seeks to be a leader in promoting, supporting, and enabling sustainable development in Anguilla; committed to the conservation of Anguilla’s natural and cultural heritage, while promoting and supporting environmental and cultural stewardship. Grant funds will be used to monitor beach and nest temperatures over time and in multiple locations and relate these to nesting success (determined from nest excavations) and expected sex ratios (determined from existing literature).

Asociacion Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) – Tibas, San Jose, Costa Rica: LAST’s mission is to realize a future where all inhabitants of the Costa Rican coasts, human and sea turtle alike, can live together in balance; where healthy populations of sea turtles fulfill their ecological roles and economic potential; and critical natural habitats are sustainably managed. Since no national or international volunteers are allowed to visit the project due to COVID-19, grant funds will be used mostly to pay for basic operative costs, including food, transportation and equipment for a biologist, a station manager and at least one research assistant.

Asociacion Salvemos las Tortugas de Parismina (ASTOP) – Parismina, Costa Rica: ASTOP focuses on the conservation and preservation of sea turtles. Hawksbill, leatherback, and green sea turtles nest on the beach of Parismina. Grant funds will be used to continue to pay their patrol guides for the remainder of the season to ensure they protect as many nests as they can.

Bald Head Island Conservancy – Bald Head Island, North Carolina: The Bald Head Island Conservancy was founded in 1983, along with its Sea Turtle Protection Program (STPP), by a group of island residents keen on protecting the sea turtles nesting there. Grant funds will be used for materials fundamental in the construction of a new Predator Exclusion Cage capable of withstanding nightly coyote depredation attempts when night patrols are practiced.

Campamento Tortuguero Ayotlcalli A.C. – Zihuatanejo; Guerrero, Mexico: The mission of Campamento Tortuguero Ayotlcalli A.C. is to protect and preserve the endangered native species of turtles and their habitats. Grant funds will be used to purchase necessary supplies for the hatchery and ATV maintenance and fuel; a stipend for two full time workers; groceries and transportation for volunteers; official required paperwork and office supplies; educational materials for school groups and for the summer program; advertising and signs for the facility and the beach; cleaning supplies for periodical beach cleanings; and first aid supplies for volunteers and for injured sea turtles.

Caretta Calabria Conservation – Cosenza, Calabria, Italy: The mission of Caretta Calabria Conservation is monitoring and protection of loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) nests in Calabria (southern Italy). Grant funds will be used for the production and placement of metal lens screens on 20 street lamps along the section of the state road beside the beach, in order to curb the light dispersion towards the nesting area and increase the life chance of the hatchlings without moving nests or building fences at a cost for the association.

Centro de Rescate de Especies Marinas Amenazadas (Rescue Center for Endangered Marine Species) – Southern Nicoya Peninsula, Guanacaste, Costa Rica: CREMA is a Costa Rican non-profit NGO founded in 2013. They are a marine conservation and research organization working to protect ocean resources and promote sustainable fisheries policies in Costa Rica and Central America. In light of the current crisis, and the fact that very possibly no volunteers will visit the project this year (or the number of volunteers will drop dramatically), grant funds will be used to provide coastal community members with a basic income to continue their main activities during the immediate crisis: saving sea turtle nests and securing the production of hatchlings; and generating new sources of income that are environmentally sustainable and not dependent on tourism, as a way to adapt to future pandemics.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium – Clearwater, Florida: Clearwater Marine Aquarium believes in preserving our environment while inspiring the human spirit through leadership in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of marine life; environmental education; research; and conservation. Grant funds will be used to purchase an ATV to cover an additional 8.5 miles of nesting beach to complete their patrol more efficiently and to improve the effort invested in the collection of nesting data, which in time would contribute to understanding the population status and trends of marine turtles that utilize the Gulf of Mexico.

Coastal Connections Inc. – Vero Beach, Florida: Coastal Connections Inc. protects coastal habitats through education and connecting people to the environment. Because their largest fundraiser of the year, a community run/walk event, was postponed due to COVID-19, grant funds will be used to supplement funds raised from that event for new supplies and equipment for educational programs, business management programs, and debris and single-use plastic reduction initiatives.

Comunidad Protectora de Tortugas de Osa (COPROT) – Rio Oro, Osa Peninsula: COPROT aims to promote sustainable development in rural communities through conservation and research, and to train local people that were previously involved in environmentally damaging activities in and around the Corcovado National Park (mainly gold-mining and poaching) in the protection of nesting sea turtle populations. Grant funds will be used to provide stipends to support local staff in their initial training phase, and then for patrolling the beaches, collecting nesting/biometric data, conducting nest relocations and managing the hatchery.

EcoViva – El Salvador: EcoViva supports community-led social justice movements in Central America implementing innovative solutions to poverty, environmental degradation, and climate change. Grant funds will be used to provide a stipend for sea turtle egg collectors and increase the number of eggs the hatchery is able to incubate – greatly reducing the number of eggs lost to the black market.

Environment Society of Oman (ESO) – Oman: ESO’s mission is to help protect Oman’s natural heritage and influence environmentally sustainable behaviour through education, awareness and conservation. Grant funds will be used to organize a dedicated net clean-up campaign in 2021 on the nesting beaches of Masirah Island, covering logistics, use of heavy machinery and equipment, and personnel time.

Equilibrio Azul – Ecuador: Equilibrio Azul uses scientific research and in-situ field work to guarantee the conservation of ecosystems and their species in Ecuador. To keep up the work that has suffered a great blow with the COVID-19 crisis, grant funds will be used for direct conservation work: transportation to different nesting beaches; patrol supplies and materials; local para-biologists; communications between patrolling teams; basic research station maintenance and functioning expenses; and nest protection and sea turtle hatchery materials.

Fundação Tartaruga – Boa Vista / Cabo Verde: Fundação Tartaruga’s mission is to contribute to sea turtle’s conservation at their own project sites by cooperating with local communities to create a future where both sea turtles and people can thrive. Grant funds will be used to purchase equipment for dogs and drones so they can monitor the nesting beaches more frequent during nesting season while increasing the range of patrolling activity.

Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund – Paia, Maui: Hawai`i Wildlife Fund is a non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the conservation of Hawai`i’s native wildlife. Grant funds will support the science, management, and community-based approach that contributes to long-term species recovery of the hawksbill sea turtle.

Indonesia Sea Turtle Foundation/ Yayasan Penyu Laut Indonesia (YPLI) – Jakarta, Indonesia: The goal of YPLI is to preserve threatened and endangered sea turtles from major threats such as egg poaching and turtle hunting, which are still continued even though they are prohibited by the domestic law. Grant funds will be used to finance the salaries of the nest guard staffs and to finance monitoring that they do at least 2 or 3 times a year for each island. Because their work area is so wide and separate in several provinces, it would certainly require a lot of travel expenses for the monitoring and the conservation management.

Island Conservation – Santa Cruz, California: Island Conservation’s mission is to prevent extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. Grant funds will be used to help Island Conservation implement biosecurity workshops to educate the local communities to prevent the incursion of invasive species to these islands. Some of the funds will also be used to purchase biosecurity supplies such as sealed containers for boats. This work will help ensure the long-term success of the invasive species removal, adding longevity to the project’s impact.

Juara Turtle Project – Kg. Juara, Tioman Island, Malaysia: At the point of their inception, the intention of Juara Turtle Project (JTP) was about working with the community to manage threats to the breeding turtle population on Juara Beach. Since then, they have organically grown to encompass a number of other conservation projects and initiatives. Grant funds will be used to allow them to reach further nesting beaches more frequently. Petrol costs and local villagers salaries are the main expenses regarding sea turtle protection. With this fund they will be able to conduct monitoring patrols on a daily/weekly basis in those beaches using a boat.

Laguna de Términos Delfines – Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche: The mission of Laguna de Términos Delfines is the protection and conservation of the sea turtle Eretmochelys imbricata, (Hawksbill), on inland beaches of the Laguna de Terminos. Surveillance of nesting females, protection of nests, during their incubation, until hatching. Grant funds will be used to establish a continuous monitoring program on inland beaches of the Laguna de Terminos to reduce predation and the loss of nests due to looting, with the placement of nets on the nests avoiding the predation of the minimum number of nests registered.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center – Juno Beach, Florida: The mission of Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) is to promote conservation of ocean ecosystems with a special focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles. Grant funds will allow LMC to continue collecting detailed information on marine turtles on one of the most important nesting beaches in the United States. Funding provided will be used for necessary equipment and maintenance costs including GPS units, stakes, gas costs, ATV repairs, paint, and sample collection supplies.

Malama na Honu – Hale’iwa, Oahu, Hawaii: The mission of Malama na Honu is to protect Hawaiian sea turtles through education, public awareness and conservation, all in the Spirit of Aloha. Grant funds will be used to provide materials and supplies for the volunteers, ie. red night light flashlights, GPS responders, backpacks, rain gear.

Mas Kagin Tapani Association – Madang, Papua New Guinea: The mission of Mas Kagin Tapani Association is to enable local communities to save, protect, increase and sustain the endangered sea turtles populations in accordance with the Fauna (Protection and Control) Act 1966/78 in ways that improve the health and safety of their marine resources, secure their food source, sustain their cultures and improve their livelihoods. Grant funds will be used for the informing, educating, empowering, and motivating of local communities to take ownership of this initiative to sustain the sea turtle restoration project, efforts to contain the slide of the endangered crashing won’t stop.

Moj & Marjan – Chabahar, Iran: Moj & Marjan is non-governmental, non-profit and non-political organization that voluntarily strives to protect the environment with emphasis on marine and coastal animal and plants, empower and educate people especially local communities with the goal of disseminating public awareness and animal rights. Grant funds will be used to increase the level of awareness of fishermen and local communities regarding the protection of sea turtles; development of marine turtle protection network; applying local communities in protecting nesting beaches and granting them financial incentives; moving to and from the laying beaches; purchasing monitoring equipment; and preparing updated GIS map for nesting and feeding habitat of sea turtles.

Mote Marine Laboratory (Mote) – Sarasota, Florida: Mote Marine Laboratory (Mote) is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the revitalization and sustainability of our oceans and ocean resources. Grant funds will be used for general program support to assist with equipment costs associated with nesting surveys and the increase in costs due to increasing nesting levels. This includes atv fuel, paint and painting supplies for repainting stakes used for marking nests, flagging tape, data sheet printing, all weather notebooks, markers, wire cutters, etc.

Nature Foundation St. Maarten – Sint Maarten, Kingdom of the Netherlands: The St. Maarten Nature Foundation works to preserve and enhance nature while simultaneously strengthening the economic and educational value and potential of our natural resources. Grant funds will be used to create more awareness of the green, hawksbill, and leatherback sea turtles nesting on beaches, by placing signs on beaches and offering education programs to youth at the schools.

Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center – Navarre, Florida: The mission of Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center is to conserve and protect threatened and endangered sea turtles through community education and partnered research. Grant funds will be used to provide needed maintenance of the UTV, allowing Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Patrol team to safely conduct nesting surveys; and produce educational materials for NBSTCC guests and community partners targeting visiting families.

Ocean Spirits – Grenada: Ocean Spirits, a registered Grenadian NGO, was established in 1999 with the primary mission to conserve the marine environment and associated biodiversity via education, research and community development. In collaboration with key stakeholders, Ocean Spirits leads conservation efforts for leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) and critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), through preservation of nesting and foraging sites and alleviation of local threats and pressures. Grant funds will be used to support local field researchers to work for three months this nesting season and aid in protecting both nests and turtles.

Pacuare Reserve – Limón province, Costa Rica: The mission of Pacuare Reserve is to contribute to the sustainability, and social and economic development of the communities near to Pacuare Reserve, through research projects, conservation of critical habitats and the environmental education. Grant funds will be used to provide the research equipment, hatchery maintenance, and meals, lodging and logistical support for the people who continue to work at Pacuare Reserve this season.

Palmarito Sea Turtle Rescue, Inc. – Bajos de Chila, San Pedro Mixtepec, Oaxaca, Mexico: The mission of the Palmarito Sea Turtle Rescue, Inc. is the protection and preservation of sea turtles. Grant funds will be used to help secure the purchase of a second ATV. Often nests are lost to poachers due to having to take eggs back to the corrals, since there is a lack of sufficient space on the ATV to protect them.

Paso Pacífico – California, Nicaragua, El Salvador: Paso Pacífico’s mission is to restore and conserve the forest and coastal ecosystems of Central America’s Pacific slope by collaborating with landowners, local communities and involved organizations. Grant funds will be used toward ranger salaries, and the other portion will be used to purchase a portable microchip reader, new flashlights, batteries, and supplies to renovate the two sea turtle hatchery.

Projecto Cambeú – Lobito, Angola: Projecto Cambeú contributes to the conservation of olive ridley and leatherback sea turtles existing in Angolan beaches, promoting a change of ecological and economical sustainable attitude in the communities where the turtles are spotted to prevent hunting of the animals for commercial purposes. Grant funds will be used to acquire a new vehicle to patrol beaches at night and bring volunteers to the village, as well as educate communities to help grow the number of turtles coming back in the area.

Pronatura Península de Yucatán, A.C. – Mérida, Yucatán, México: The mission of Pronatura Península de Yucatán, A.C. is the conservation of the flora, the fauna and key ecosystems of the Yucatán península by promoting the development of society in harmony with nature. Grant funds will be used to protect key nesting habitats for hawksbill and green turtles in the Yucatán peninsula and ensure the protection of females and their nests.

Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire – Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands: Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire’s mission is to ensure that Bonaire’s sea turtles have a secure future, and to connect people to sea turtle conservation in ways that inspire caring for nature. Grant funds will therefore be used to cover costs related to gasoline for our trucks and boat needed to reach the loggerhead, hawksbill, and green sea turtle nesting sites; fieldwork supplies such as barriers and cages; volunteer materials; and educational nest signs.

Sea Turtle Preservation Society – Indialantic, Florida: For more than 30 years, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society has worked to protect sea turtles and their habitat in Brevard County. Through both public education and conservation programs, the all-volunteer organization strives to fulfill its mission statement, which is helping sea turtles survive. Grant funds will be used to expand our educational offerings through the purchase of equipment and technology necessary to provide videos, virtual classes and training, and other distance/remote learning programs.

Sea Turtles Forever – Los Pargos, Guanacaste, Costa Rica: Sea Turtles Forever (STF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization devoted to the conservation of marine turtles and the protection of their nesting and foraging habitats. Grant funds will be used to pay local patrollers to protect endangered and vulnerable sea turtle eggs on Pargos beaches during the 2020-21 nesting season. This adequately compensates them for the ever-changing nightly high-tide patrol hours, and the nightly risks they face.

St Eustatius National Parks Foundation – St Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean: Statia National Marine Park is treasured on the island of St Eustatius for its rich biodiversity and unique cultural heritage and is the cornerstone of marine conservation on the island of St Eustatius protecting nature for future generations. Grant funds will be used to make a raised artificial hatchery in a safer area of the beach where they can relocate green, hawksbill, and leatherback sea turtle nests to and acquire wildlife cameras to protect the area as well as to monitor hatchling behavior due to light pollution in the area.

Tambor Bay Turtles – Tambor, Costa Rica: Tambor Bay Turtles reduces threats (predation, poaching, high tides and debrief) to olive ridley sea turtles still coming to the beaches of Tambor Bay to produce enough hatchlings to actually grow the population, so that in 20-25 years there will once again be enough adult olive ridley sea turtles to sustain the local population naturally. Grant funds will be used to hire local community members to help patrol beaches and monitor the hatchery, due to lack of international volunteers.

Te mana o te moana – Moorea (French Polynesia): Te mana o te moana’s objective is to implement concrete actions to understand, educate and protect the Polynesian marine environment. In order to conduct the new objectives, Te mana o te moana would like to welcome an abroad specialist of sea turtle conservation and nesting monitoring to acquire and share new competences. Grant funds will be used to cover trip and everyday expenses fees of the guest scientist welcomed on the project.

Tortugas Preciosas de Osa / Asociación Innovaciones para el Desarrollo Humano Sostenible – Puerto Jiménez, Costa Rica: Tortugas Preciosas de Osa is a Costa Rican non-profit initiative dedicated to the conservation of species of sea turtles that occur in the Osa Peninsula. By integrating ecological research, in-situ management and education in local communities, we promote the conservation of these endangered species along with local communities. Grant funds will be used to purchase two GPS tracking units to tag two individuals of Hawksbill that nest successfully on Preciosa Beach.

Tortugueros las Playitas – Todos Santos, Baja Sur, Mexico: Our mission is to protect, conserve and replenish the fragile marine eco-systems of Baja California Sur, Mexico. In addition to our Sea Turtle population recovery program we place special interest on Habitat Protection, Environmental Education and Community Outreach in Todos Santos, Las Playitas and Agua Blanca. Grant funds will be used for turtle territory monitoring each day; more signage; paid staff for volunteer training.

Turtle Love – Playa Tres, Costa Rica: Turtle Love aims to conserve sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica through community involvement, applied research, and liaison with environmental agencies. Grant funds will be used to support Turtle Love’s sea turtle nesting beach protection and monitoring efforts. Specifically, they would be used to pay local assistants and to pay a local boat captain to transport their beach patrol team from our headquarters in Parismina to Playa Tres, which is located across a river mouth from Parismina.

Universidad Michoacana Black Sea Turtle Project – Michoacan, Mexico: Our mission are to recovery black sea turtle population in Michoacan coast mainly in Colola Beach at Is historical levels in 1965 (25,000 nesting females in a single year). Grant funds will be used to increase the number of nest collected and hatchlings release during 2020 increasing at the same time the participation of community members.

WILDCOAST – California and Mexico: WILDCOAST conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and addresses climate change through natural solutions. Grant funds will be used to strengthen monitoring efforts for nesting Olive ridleys on Morro Ayuta during 10 arribadas of the 2020-21 season; implement a beetle control program in Morro Ayuta with local communities to protect nests from predatory beetles; engage students from surrounding local communities through presentations and outreach activities using specialized materials; train community members in Morro Ayuta on the procedures of oil spill response in regards to oiled wildlife according to WILDCOAST’s oil spill response plan.

Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association (ARCAS) – Guatemala, Central America: ARCAS vision is to improve the chances of survival and conservation of endangered species and their habitat, as well as assist in the rational management of natural resources. Grant funds will be used to hire local residents to assist in egg collection, data gathering and hatchery management with the goal of rescuing and incubating at least 50,000 sea turtle eggs during the 2020 season.

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