Community-based initiative for tourism in Juan Venado Island

I cannot imagine a better place to spend the last days of holidays in Nicaragua than Palo de Oro in the Natural Reserve San Juan Venado (León). The scenery is astonishing: a coastal wetland island, which acts as a barrier between the Pacific sea and the main land, with no paved roads and no human settlements. The mangrove forest is house of birds and crocodiles and the long sandy beach is the nesting site of some species of turtles.
Palo de Oro is an Ecotouristic Project designed and run by community members. Few years ago, some woodcutters from the nearby community decided to find an alternative to their livelihood activity and, together with the Administrator of the Reserve and a professor of the UNAN University, proposed a project that combined tourism and conservation in the protected area. GEF Small Grants Programme provided the financial and technical support and the former woodcutters, thirteen people, have been running the project for a year already. They built the cabins facing the ocean and its infrastructure (showers, toilets and a bar) and they offer them for a cheap price. The price includes the panga trip from Las Peñitas to Palo de Oro and a night-walk to see, if you are lucky, turtles nesting. For a very reasonable price, a group of women accompanies you to cook for you (nica cuisine, of course!).
The project takes care of a turtle hatchery, which keeps nests of various species of turtles. During our visit there were collected nests of Paslama (Lepidochelys olivacea), Green or Torita (Chelonia mydas) and Tora (Dermochelys coriacea). Don Luis, one of our hosts, explained that a group of thirty people from the community used to walk along the beach to protect turtles but nowadays this activity is responsibility of the ecotouristic project. Every nest found in the beach is moved to the hatchery, to secure them. Sadly, during our night walk we could see by ourselves how poachers collect the nests to sell the eggs. It is very easy to detect the nests, the price of turtle eggs in the market is high and there is no police control or sanctions against the practice in the Reserve, so the only possibility for eggs to survive is through hatchery. Some actions have been approved to protect turtles like securing areas for nesting and raising awareness among consumers but egg recollection is a traditional activity that has turned unsustainable and requires urgent management due to poverty, coastal pressure and new forms of fishing and trade.

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By Ainara Casajús