Taking a Trip? Consider Sustainable Sea Turtle Travel

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Ecotourism provides opportunities to experience nature while supporting conservation.

Green turtle hatchlings head to the sea at Guanahacabibes National Park, Cuba. Image Credit: Rene Perez Massola

Some people want to climb out of their shells and vacation in a tropical locale. Sea turtles don’t have that luxury. Their shells are attached to their bodies, and they don’t drive or fly.

But people and sea turtles have things in common. They love the oceans and don’t want to see them harmed. Tourists who visit tropical locales can have a negative impact on the environment they’re coming to visit, however, from trampling on coral to using chemical-based sunscreen that isn’t biodegradable.

Ecotourism is a new travel ethic, The Nature Conservancy explains, that refers to ‰ÛÏenvironmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

SEVENSEAS marine conservation and travel magazine recently looked at this topic, highlighting work by an Oregon nonprofit in the United States called SEE Turtles. The group protects endangered sea turtles in Latin America and elsewhere through conservation and volunteer trips, education and a Billion Baby Turtles Initiative. It was the first of its kind when it launched in 2008, and has since joined with the nonprofit Oceanic Society.

A hawksbill turtle hatchling being measured by a volunteer in Nicaragua. Image Credit: Brad Nahill / SEE Turtles

The trips aren’t cheap ‰ÛÒ doing the right thing can sometimes mean paying more. A four-night volunteer expedition to Cuba in July costs $2,750 per person. Travelers work side-by-side with biologists at the Guanahacabibes National Park to study and protect nests of green and loggerhead sea turtles. Profits go to support SEE Turtles’ Billion Baby Turtles Initiative, which involves efforts at the park to save turtle hatchlings.

Other trips go to places like Costa Rica, said to be the birthplace of ecotourism, and Nicaragua, which includes a newly discovered nesting area for the hawksbill turtle.

You can find more information from SEVENSEAS magazine, a project of The Ocean Foundation, here.

If nothing else, ecotourism opportunities like this may give you new ideas for your next get-away.

A hawksbill turtle returns to the sea in Nicaragua. Image Credit: Brad Nahill / SEE Turtles

‰ÛÏParticipating in a sea turtle conservation project in Costa Rica is like disappearing into a dream world,‰Û according to one SEVENSEAS article by a researcher with The Leatherback Trust. ‰ÛÏThe fruit is fresh. The ocean is next door. And the days are hot. It also means spiders in your bed and powdered milk in your coffee. But it’s worth it.‰Û

And sea turtles aren’t the only creatures that ecotourism supports.

Focus Expeditions, in partnership with SEVENSEAS, offers trips to locations including: Guyana, and the Karanambu Lodge, where giant otters are rehabilitated; and Indonesia, to a care center managed by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program.

The Wildlife Alliance, which cares for and rehabilitates animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, also offers tours of its center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Jeff KartåÊis managing editor for IEEE Earthzine. Follow him on TwitteråÊ@jeffkart.