In 2007, conservationists believed the hawksbill sea turtle was nearing extinction in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Today, after 15 years of dedicated work in El Salvador, Wild Earth Allies’ partner ProCosta has renewed hope for the species in the region.

ProCosta and its grassroots network have protected 4,114 hawksbill nests and released 348,415 hatchlings. With fewer than 700 adult female hawksbills in the eastern Pacific, these results are a remarkable turnaround.

The hawksbill sea turtle is critically endangered globally. Human-driven stressors, including egg consumption, fisheries bycatch, and climate change, are driving its decline. When ProCosta began its work in 2007, nearly all hawksbill eggs were collected and sold for human consumption. In response, ProCosta mobilized community members to join a dedicated network of sea turtle protectors. Together, they now protect more than 98 percent of nests. ProCosta grounds its success in one guiding principle, “Somos Un Equipo,” or “We Are One Team.”

Over half of the hawksbill nesting in the eastern Pacific occurs in El Salvador. Wild Earth Allies proudly partners with ProCosta and coastal communities in three primary nesting sites: Jiquilisco Bay, Los Cóbanos, and Punta Amapala.

A map of El Salvador showing ProCosta's program areas

ProCosta’s conservation areas on the southern coast of El Salvador

Hawksbill Nest Protection

ProCosta’s hawkbill conservation work begins with nest protection. During the peak nesting months of April through October, trained community egg collectors known locally as careyeros join the team’s efforts. Careyeros patrol nesting beaches nightly, identify nests, and help relocate eggs to protected hatcheries. Before working with ProCosta, many careyeros sold eggs for consumption on the black market. In 2023, over 100 careyeros protected 429 hawksbill nests.

During the nesting process, ProCosta also collects data on each female turtle to track population status and trends over the long term.

Freshly laid hawksbill turtle eggs on the beach
ProCosta team members carry a bag of hawksbill eggs in a boat

1) Freshly laid hawksbill eggs sit on the beach next to a nesting female in Jiquilisco Bay, El Salvador 2) ProCosta Nesting and Aquatic Monitoring Program Coordinator Sofía Chavarría transports hawksbill eggs to a hatchery. (Photos by Allison Shelley)

Maximizing Hatchling Production

ProCosta manages five community-run hatcheries to ensure the greatest number of healthy hawksbill hatchlings. Once eggs arrive at a hatchery, the hatchery managers safeguard them 24 hours a day.

The hatcheries also provide favorable incubation conditions. Hawksbill eggs take an average of 60 days to hatch. Hatchery managers weigh and measure emerging hatchlings before deeming them ready for release.

A bamboo nursery
A bamboo cutting grows at a nursery

1) A worker prepares to bury a clutch of eggs for incubation at the hatchery. 2) A healthy hatchling weighs in at 10.38 ounces. (Photos by Carlos Rivas)

New Life Journeys Begin

When a group of hatchlings is ready for release, ProCosta moves it to the original nesting beach as quickly as possible. The team releases the baby turtles after sunset when fewer natural predators are present. In 2023, ProCosta released 32,204 hatchlings into the sea.

A woman farms in the DRC

New hatchlings enter Jiquilisco Bay after release by ProCosta. (Photo by Carlos Rivas)

Hawksbill Rescue and Rehabilitation

While working to increase the number of hatchlings, ProCosta also relocates sick or injured turtles to a small rescue center for care. Fishers and careyeros help to find and move the turtles in need of help. Each year, the team treats a few dozen turtles injured by boat strikes, fishing gear such as hooks and nets, or the ingestion of plastic waste. After recovery, the turtles are released back to their environment.

A woman farms in the DRC

Nesting and Aquatic Monitoring Program Coordinator Sofía Chavarría monitors a hawksbill turtle. (Photo by Carlos Rivas)

In-Water Hawksbill Monitoring

ProCosta conducts in-water monitoring to track individual turtles at feeding areas in the Jiquilisco Bay estuary. Long-term monitoring provides data on hawksbill population size and growth rates of individual turtles. It also helps track adult female turtles that rest and forage in the estuary before returning to nesting beaches. Local fishers also report seeing hawksbills in the bay.

Through their research, ProCosta has identified an uptick in the hawksbill population over the past decade.

A woman farms in the DRC

Don Efrain, a long-time collaborator, prepares to locate turtles through the in-water monitoring program. (Photo by Carlos Rivas)

Hawksbills and Community Livelihoods

Hundreds of community members play an integral role in ProCosta’s conservation efforts. This collaboration dramatically improves nest protection rates and offers valuable income for communities. Each year, ProCosta provides a fair income to over a hundred careyeros who patrol nesting beaches. The team also provides jobs to over 30 community members in Jiquilisco Bay, Los Cobanos, and Punta Amapala through hatchery operations, bycatch reduction programs, and research activities.

An emerging ecotourism program aims to improve the local economy and provide environmental education opportunities to local and international tourists.

A woman farms in the DRC

Glenda (left) and Rosa (right) are proud members of a fishers cooperative that helps operate ProCosta’s field station in Jiquilisco Bay. (Photo by Carlos Rivas)

Hawksbill Bycatch Reduction

The accidental capture—or bycatch—by fisheries is a leading cause of sea turtle mortality. In El Salvador, lobster fishing is a primary stressor for hawksbills. Over the past decade, ProCosta has been tackling this issue in Punta Amapala and Los Cobanos.

One key strategy to reduce hawksbill bycatch is attaching LED lights to lobster fishing nets. ProCosta has trialed this technology over 9,000 times with promising results. LED lights reduce hawksbill bycatch by nearly 60% and increase lobster catch by 10%.

ProCosta also trains lobster fishers in data collection and best practices around bycatch incidents. The team’s efforts are crucial to managing and designing solutions that protect sea turtles on a wider scale.

A woman farms in the DRC

A lobster fishing net is equipped with LED lights. (Photo courtesy of ProCosta)

Inspiring the Next Generation

ProCosta engages youth in hawksbill conservation through its annual Hawksbill Sea Turtle Festival. Through fun activities, schoolchildren and their families learn about the importance of hawksbills and celebrate their role in conservation. Festival activities include costumes, games, song and dance, and art contests. Over the past 15 years, more than 1,200 people have participated in the festival.

A bamboo nursery
A bamboo cutting grows at a nursery

1) ProCosta President Ani Henríquez greets a student at the 2023 Hawksbill Festival. 2) A youth illustration of a turtuga carey (hawkbill sea turtle) at the 2023 Hawksbill Festival. (Photos by Carlos Rivas)

A Future for Hawksbills

As a keystone species, hawksbill turtles play a crucial role in maintaining the health and balance of marine ecosystems. For example, hawksbills regulate populations of prey species such as sea sponges. The decline or disappearance of hawksbills can indicate environmental degradation, pollution, or habitat loss.

To support a thriving future for hawksbills and coastal communities, Wild Earth Allies and ProCosta are working together with national institutions to establish a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Punta Amapala, El Salvador. The MPA will reduce hawksbill bycatch, improve ecosystem health, and enhance the sustainability of local fisheries.

A woman farms in the DRC

The coast of Punta Amapala, the location where we are working to establish a new Marine Protected Area. (Photo by Carlos Rivas)

ProCosta’s conservation success story is a powerful example of how to bring people and wildlife together to benefit nature and our collective futures. Please support their powerful momentum with a gift today.

A woman farms in the DRC

Wild Earth Allies and ProCosta team members, including Suyapa the sea turtle conservation dog (Photo by Carlos Rivas)