Turtles Tragic Troubles

Four of the world's eight sea turtle species nest on the beaches of the ArchipiƩlago de Bocas del Toro, particularly the long beaches on the northern side of Isla Bastimentos. The loggerheads appear from April to September, the leatherbacks in May and June, the hawksbills in July and the greens in July and August.

Sea turtles leave the water only to lay their eggs. Two months after the eggs are laid, the hatchlings break loose from their shells, leave their sandy nests and enter the sea - if they are not first eaten by raccoons, birds or dogs. Many hatchlings, which are guided to the sea by moonlight, die because people using flashlights unintentionally steer the tiny turtles into the rainforest, where they are preyed upon or get lost and die from starvation or the heat.

The turtles also have human predators to contend with. Throughout Panama, many communities still eat turtles and their eggs, an unfortunate reality that has contributed greatly to their dwindling populations. Fortunately, AAMVECONA, which is based in the Humedal de San-San Pond Sak, is one community-based organization that is working toward their preservation. If you have time to spare, AAMVECONA accepts volunteers to help with their turtle nesting and hatching projects.

to return to their ancestral home, their survival is threatened by the lack of a comarca (autonomous region) of their own. This scenario contrasts greatly with other Panamanian indigenous population groups such as the Kuna, the Embera, the Wounaan and the neighboring Ngobe-Bugle. The plight of the Naso is further amplified by the fact that there is tremendous ecotourism potential in Parque Internacional La Amistad, as well as growing national and international interest in building a massive hydroelectric project in the region. Although proposals for establishing a comarca are on the table, in true Panamanian form, progress is being held up by bureaucracy.

It is estimated that there are only a few thousand Naso remaining in Panama, the majority of which live in Bocas del Toro Province and survive as subsistence farmers. Although they remained virtually autonomous for generations, the Naso have recently started losing their cultural self-sufficiency due to missionary activity, Latino encroachment and youth migration. Today, most Naso are bilingual (Naso and Spanish), wear Western-style clothing and practice some form of Christianity. However, strong elements of ancestral Naso culture remain, especially considering that they are one of the few remaining indigenous groups in the Americas to retain their traditional monarchy.

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