Assoc. Conservation Scientist
Wildlife Conservation Society
A.P. 59, Bluefields
Tel/Fax: (505) 2 572-0506
Location: Caribbean coast of Nicaragua
Species: Loggerhead, Leatherback, Green, and Hawksbill
Objectives: The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) uses an integrated natural and social science approach to promote sea turtle conservation in Nicaragua. This includes scientific research such as:
• conducting population assessments,
• studying population demography and nesting ecology,
• conducting genetic stock assessments,
• and tracking movements and migration patterns.
They also provide educational and training opportunities at both the local and national levels. WCS engages the support of local communities by educating people about sea turtles and their impact on these endangered populations, by working directly with local communities on solutions to current threats to sea turtles in Nicaragua, by hiring local staff and training them, and by providing this staff with results from WCS research. WCS is also facilitating the development of a management plan for the long-term conservation of sea turtles in Nicaragua and the development of alternative sources of income for local turtle fishers.
Bräutigam, A. and K. L. Eckert. 2006. Turning the Tide: Exploitation, Trade and Management of Marine Turtles in the Lesser Antilles, Central America, Colombia and Venezuela. TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK.
Nicaragua’s constitution serves as the fundamental legal basis for natural resource protection and management. It also sets the stage for the dichotomy in marine turtle management that bedevils the country today. Article 60 of the Constitution obliges the State to preserve, conserve and restore the environment and natural resources and to establish the appropriate structures and measures to fulfill this mandate. Article 89 of the Constitution recognizes the rights of the Caribbean coastal communities to preserve and develop their cultural identity within the context of the national identity, including their own forms of social and local political organization in accordance with their traditions; finally, it recognizes their rights to use the country’s natural resources (MARENA, 2001). From this foundation has arisen a large body of legal provisions that pertain specifically or generally to marine turtles in Nicaragua. These laws have taken many forms and differ in the weight that they carry and are dispersed in time, applicability (e.g. some apply to the Pacific, some to the Atlantic coast), and implementation. Complicating their implementation is the autonomous status of the Caribbean coastal regions, the RAAN and the RAAS.
In recognition of the need to establish a simple, coherent legal framework to address the full breadth of marine turtle conservation and management in Nicaragua and in support of the development of a marine turtle management plan, analyses of relevant laws, resolutions, and other legal instruments have been undertaken, with the objective of strengthening existing laws, adopting new laws, and providing for revocation of laws that have proved ineffective (CITES-Nicaragua, 2002; Lagueux et al., 2002; C. Lagueux, in litt., 13 June 2005). A major advance in modernizing the legal framework for the extraction of marine and aquatic resources was realized with the adoption of the Ley de Pesca y Acuicultura Nº 489, gazetted on 27 December 2004, and its implementing regulation Decreto Nº 9-2005 Reglamento de la Ley Nº 489, gazetted on 25 February 2005. This legislation reaffirms previous legal provisions in relation to marine turtles, such as requiring the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in the shrimp fishery, expands on many of these and includes the establishment of specific penalties for infractions. Based on this law and several previous laws, three of the four marine turtle species that occur on the Caribbean coast are fully protected, the exception being the Green Turtle, which is, with these new laws, permitted to be taken for subsistence purposes only during an open season. The closed season is regulated by MARENA and extends from 1 March to 30 June (CITES-Nicaragua, 2002). Particularly noteworthy amongst the provisions in the Ley de Pesca y Acuicultura Nº 489 are the following:
• “Subsistence fishing” is defined as that conducted without commercial purpose but with the aim of subsistence or improving the family diet;
• As regards the exploitation of marine resources of the Caribbean Sea, there must be a respect for the rights established for the Autonomous Regions in the Constitution, Statute of Autonomy of the Atlantic Coast Regions, and other regulations (Art. 4);
• It is prohibited to market (purchase, sell, process, or transport with the purpose of providing to national or international markets) (Art. 49):
• fisheries products, the legal provenance of which precludes their being marketed;
• species subject to prohibition in Nicaragua or in other Central American countries, with the exception of inventories held up to three days after the beginning of a closed season;
• species subject to prohibition in international treaties to which the country is party;
• species under established size limits or subject to prohibitions by the competent authority as a result of being threatened with extinction.
• The capture, killing or use of marine turtles of any species (excepting subsistence provisions, see below), as well as the use of any of their products is prohibited, with the exception of use for scientific research and subject to the specific regulations promulgated by MARENA in accordance with the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (Art. 77);
• Subsistence fishers must comply with closed seasons and other prohibitions (Art. 94); and
• Subsistence fishing for marine turtles is permitted on the Atlantic coast of the country (Art. 96).
In addition, the new law outlines different types of infractions and the penalties that apply to those infractions. Among these are: fishing with the intent to commercialize the product (for which a licence is required) under the guise of subsistence fishing; failure to deploy TEDs; capture, possession or commercial use of aquatic resources during closed seasons or those that have been declared as threatened species (minimum fine of 1000 US dollars [USD1000], two to four years of imprisonment); processing and commercial use of aquatic resources subject to prohibition (minimum fine of USD5000, two to four years of imprisonment).
The implementing regulations for the new fisheries law include the following provisions:
• Subsistence fishing is conducted with the sole purpose of obtaining sustenance and direct food for the fisher and his or her family (Art. 104); and
• In the case of fishing for marine turtles on the Atlantic coast, including when that is considered subsistence fishing under the law, there shall be implemented, as appropriate, restrictions arising from the need to ensure the sustainability of the resource, for the benefit of the community. Such restrictions will be established by MARENA, in co-ordination with the regional authorities, through Ministerial Resolution (Art. 106). The following excerpts from the two-volume compendium of Nicaraguan wildlife law by Hernández Munguía (2002a and 2002b, cited in Lagueux and Campbell, 2002a) highlight some of the major legal provisions that have been adopted for marine turtles over several decades; others are noted by the CITES Management Authority (CITES-Nicaragua, 2002):
• Ley de Caza, Nº 206 of 1956 regulates hunting throughout the national territory, including by resolutions establishing closed seasons, hunting exclusion zones and permissable trade in products derived from hunting activities.
• Reglamento de Explotación y Prohibición de la Destrucción de las Tortugas, Nº 14 of 29 August 1958 regulates exploitation and prohibits destruction of marine turtles. It requires issuance of a permit for the collection of turtle eggs on the Pacific coast but does not authorize activities aimed at industrial exploitation of turtle eggs. Further, the regulation prohibits transport, trade and exploitation of turtle eggs and destruction
of turtle nests during closed seasons.
• Decreto Ejecutivo Relativo a la Veda de Tortugas en el Océano Atlántico Nº 204-DRN of 12 July 1972, gazetted on 15 July 1972, established an annual four-month closed season for the capture of marine turtles from 1 April to 31 July, during which time it was also illegal to buy, sell, display for sale, process, transport, or possess turtles or turtle products. This law also provided for the imposition of a monetary fine for infractions against these prohibitions.
• Decreto de Prohibición de Aprehensión y Caza de Toda Clase de Animales Silvestres y Exportación de Huevos de Tortugas, Nº 625 of 1977 “indefinitely prohibits” the capture, hunting, and export (including of subproducts) of “all classes of wildlife” for commercial purposes; it also prohibited the export of turtle eggs for a period of 10 years and provided for the collection of eggs for personal consumption or internal trade to be regulated by the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería (C. Lagueux, in litt., 26 June 2005). Although this law has been interpreted in some instances as having conferred protection on all marine turtles from commercial exploitation, it has clearly not been interpreted in this way by the regulatory authorities, at least in so far as the Caribbean Green Turtle fishery is concerned.
• Acuerdo Nº 2 of 18 April 1983 prohibits hunting of Loggerheads and Hawksbill Turtles.
• Ley General del Medio Ambiente y los Recursos Naturales, Nº 217 of 1996 specifies the mandate of MARENA as the principal authority responsible for controlling the use, exploitation and protection of natural resources (see below).
• Ley de Normalización Técnica y Calidad, Nº 219 of 1996 obliges MARENA to prepare and propose technical standards for the protection and use of marine turtles to the National Commission of Technical Standardization and Quality for their approval.
• Resolución Ministerial que Establece el Sistema de Vedas de Especies Silvestres Nicaraguenses, Nº 007-99 of 1999 establishes a system for prohibiting the take of specific wildlife species, including procedures for listing species under prohibition and for either temporary or indefinite closed seasons. The list of species under temporary or indefinite prohibition is reviewed and published annually by MARENA. This list includes an indefinite ban on the hunting of all Caribbean marine turtles, except for the Green Turtle. Take of wild specimens of species listed under this law is prohibited except where authorized for scientific purposes, rearing in captivity, or for artificial reproduction and only when such specific projects have been approved by the General Directorate of Biodiversity and Sustainable Use of Natural Resources of MARENA. This resolution and MARENA Resolución Ministerial Nº 023-99 of 1999 establish a permanent closed season for the killing of Hawksbill Turtles and the collection of their eggs (Lagueux et al., 2003).
• Acuerdo Ministerial para el Uso de los Aparatos Exclusores de Tortugas, Nº 002 of 1998 requires all nacional and foreign shrimp boats operating in Nicaraguan waters to use TEDs. This law is implemented and enforced by the Ministerio de Fomento, Industria y Comercio (MIFIC). Penalties for violations of this law include the confiscation of the product and fines of up to USD5000, as well as revocation of the boat captain’s operating and fishing licences for repeat offenders.
Other laws that protect marine turtles include:
• Decreto Nº 43 of 1991 designated the Miskito Cays and immediate coast as a marine biological reserve, thereby conferring protection on an area of great importance for marine biodiversity that includes extensive seagrass beds and coral reefs, important habitats for Green and Hawksbill Turtles (CITES-Nicaragua, 2002). This reserve (and others declared along the Atlantic coast) are not closed to subsistence use of marine turtles (Ruiz and Jarquín, 1997). As provided by the new fisheries law, trawling is prohibited in protected areas, as are other activities specified in the protected areas law.
• Decreto Ejecutivo Nº 527 of 17 April 1990 established the Gran Reserva Biológica Indo-Maiz, the coast of which was once an important nesting area for Hawksbill Turtles (Nietschmann, 1973).
• Decreto Nº 8 of 1998 establishes the standards and procedures for the import and export of wildlife in Nicaragua and implements the provisions of CITES, including the prohibitions on trade provided through the listing of individual species, such as marine turtles, in Appendix I (CITES-Nicaragua, 2002).
• Resolución RAAS Nº 192-02-04-00, adopted by the Regional Council (the supreme governing body) of the RAAS, authorizes the President of the Regional Council’s Commission for the Environment and Natural Resources to join efforts with MARENA to protect the Hawksbill Turtle and its nesting sites (CITESNicaragua, 2002) and gives “unconditional” support to WCS’s Hawksbill Conservation Programme. Chacón (in litt. 26 September 2002) reports the existence of an agreement from 1996 between MARENA and the government of the RAAN regarding exploitation of the Green Turtle on the Caribbean Coast.
Bass, A. L., C. J. Lagueux and B.W. Bowen. 1998. Origin of Green Turtles, Chelonia mydas, at “sleeping rocks” off the northeast coast of Nicaragua. Copeia 1985(4):1064–1069.
Lagueux, C. J., C. L. Campbell, and W. A. McCoy. 2003. Nesting and conservation of the Hawksbill Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata, in the Pearl Cays, Nicaragua. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 4:588-602.
Lagueux, C. J. and C. L. Campbell. 2005. Sea turtle nesting and conservation needs on the south-east coast of Nicaragua. Oryx 39(4):398-405.
Lagueux, C. J., C. L. Campbell, and E. W. Lauck. 2005. Management strategy for marine turtle conservation on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. Wildlife Conservation Society.
Lagueux, C. J., C. L. Campbell, and V. A. Cordi. 2006. 2005 Pearl Cays Hawksbill Conservation Project, Nicaragua. in Wildlife Conservation Society.
Lagueux, C. J. 1998. Marine turtle fishery of Caribbean Nicaragua: human use patterns and harvest trends. Doctoral dissertation, University of Florida, Gainesville. 215 pp.