The southern region of the Caribbean Sea is the national coastline and islands of Venezuela. Following the littoral till the eastern tip, you reach the frontier with Trinidad which is almost open Atlantic waters surrounded by the influence of the Orinoco River Delta. This is the place of the Paria Peninsula and his Gulf where several marine and estuarine species live between green hills and a rainy but sunny landscape.
Early in the year 2001 I was starting to work with the National Biodiversity Office of the Venezuelan Environment Ministry. We received several denounces around June regarding illegal trade of sea turtles at Güiria which is the last city where the highway end. I traveled the 12 hours from Caracas with a colleague. At the city market we did not found sea turtles however people said to us: “All the animals came from Macuro, go there”. We set another trip. This time using boats because there are no roads due to the stepped mountains of Paria.
Macuro is a small town of 1.500 inhabitants where according the history the great navigator Christopher Columbus arrived in 1498, in the central plaza there is a statue of him. We registered in a local posada and begun the search. At the start most of the fishermen had no good eyes with us, but some people knew we are doing the right things. Just checking two neighbor beaches the drama was real: sea turtle carcasses, heads, poached nests and a lot of carapace mainly from hawksbill –the most endangered species of the world. We have to do something!
Next year we gather the approval of bosses and the budget. Formal field trips started in the season of 2003. The first results revealed an 88% of poaching nest, for this we contracted a local boat (Mr. Chanico and his son Cesar, R.i.p.). The only way to reach all the beaches between the Parian hills is with the “peñeros”, with this kind of boats even is possible to do nightshift and even more travel to the north where the Caribbean waters are turquoise and falls drops from the mountains at Don Pedro. While sailings the nearby seas you could watch marine fauna as big like: Mantas, bottlenose dolphins, whale sharks, moonfish and tiger sharks. But our goal was to protect and know the biology of the sea turtles.
At the Paria Gulf occur five main nesting beaches: Macurito, Los Garzos, Silvano, Obispo and Cerezo. These sites are less than 200 meters length each but can receive around 140 nests of hawksbills, 35 of leatherbacks in average from march till October when the rainy season is at the top yearly, and even four more nest of green turtles appeared every five years. Those are tiny numbers according the largest rookeries of the world like Costa Rica, Australia, some parts of Africa and even Brazil. Nevertheless, small rookeries could be the answer on warming effect of climate change which is turning globally most of the sea turtle hatchlings into females. That is one of the many reasons to preserve particular nesting sites like Macuro beaches.
After 16 continuous seasons I still travel there with 2 local assistant, one peñero rented to Mr. Damaso, some friends and volunteers. Our best achieve was to reduce nest poaching to less than 15% just patrolling and educating people specially children. The history has more details but need more pages to tell you. Maybe very soon. A final point is how to protect endangered species in a country with socio economic crisis… well is possible, with the help of dedicated people and few funds from donors.