Daniel Arauz is one of our newest Nat Geo Photo Ark EDGE Fellows, who will soon be starting his project focused on hawksbill turtles in Costa Rica. We asked Daniel to write this blog to introduce himself, his project, and what an EDGE Fellowship means to him.
A new hope: using science and community engagement to protect the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle
All of the four species of sea turtles that inhabit the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica are listed under the IUCN Red List of threatened species: Olive Ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea) as vulnerable, Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) as endangered, while Leaherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) and hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata) are listed as critically endangered. All of them are included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna & Flora (CITES).
As the son of two sea turtle biologists working in the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, I shifted from beach to beach looking for nesting populations of turtles. After years of travelling one thing was evident; hawksbill sea turtles were extremely rare or practically non-existent. According to scientific studies hawksbill sea turtles were abundant and heavily exploited in the Eastern Pacific up until the 1950’s when their numbers started to abruptly decline. The main reason for this decline was the collection of its beautifully elaborated keratinous shell (tortoise shell or “bekko” in Japanese), which is used for the creation of items such as pendants, bracelets, and rings.
Despite its situation hawksbill sea turtles had received little to no attention in the Eastern Pacific, where data on nesting and foraging grounds is very scarce. However in the early 2000’s things were about to change for the species, thanks to the efforts of sea turtle biologists and conservationists determined to assess the situation. A small and fragile nesting population was discovered in El Salvador and Nicaragua, while small rocky reefs in the coast of Costa Rica were discovered to be foraging grounds for both juvenile and adult hawksbill sea turtles.
Currently I am working with the Rescue Center for Endangered Marine Species (CREMA in Spanish) where we monitor and study two foraging grounds in the Northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Here small fishing communities interact with hawksbill sea turtles as they get tangled on their fishing lines or gill nets. For some time now we have involved local fishermen in our data collection and we have also started an environmental education program, where we take young kids to the ocean to have a closer look at this incredible animal as well as teaching them about science and monitoring techniques.
In 2018, I was awarded with the National Geographic Photo Ark EDGE Fellowship, which will provide me the basic funding for a two year project to protect this species. With the help of the EDGE team I expect to position myself in the sea turtle conservation field in Costa Rica. Personally, I hope that as a local biologist in a developing country I can serve as an example for other young scientists to start researching endangered species. I strongly believe that in the critical times that we, as scientists, are facing right now, it is very important to introduce marine conservation in the political agenda of Costa Rica, using published data as a tool for creating new marine protected areas and management plans in important home and reproductive grounds of threatened species, which is what I hope to achieve with this project.
Daniel Arauz is a field biologist and project coordinator for the Rescue Center for Endangered Marine Species (CREMA) in Costa Rica. As a biologist and professional diver, Daniel Arauz has been involved in marine conservation since a very young age. Since 2017 he has managed a sea turtle monitoring program in coastal communities where he promotes environmental education, science, and sustainable fisheries practices to protect the habitat of the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle. In 2018 Daniel was selected as part of the first cohort of Nat Geo Photo Ark EDGE fellows, which helps young conservationists in protecting evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered species.
To learn more about Daniel’s work or to become a volunteer, you can contact him through CREMA’s Facebook.