The Sea Turtle Conservancy (formerly Caribbean Conservation Corporation) has been active in sea turtle conservation throughout the greater Caribbean since the 1950s. On 7 November 2021, Peter and Anne Meylan, research associates of the Sea Turtle Conservancy and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Cristina Ordoñez and other members of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, along with a host of beach monitors and other community members, dedicated a new field station on the Small Zapatilla Cay in the Bastimentos Island National Marine Park, Bocas del Toro Province, Panama. The Park is a key nesting area for the Critically Endangered hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata. This new facility will support ongoing efforts to conserve and restore the nesting beach population of hawksbill turtles that formerly existed along this coast. This population and others in Panama were nearly extirpated by the tortoiseshell trade that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of hawksbill turtles (mostly nesting females) before Panama became a CITES signatory in 1978. The field station will serve as headquarters for beach monitors, mostly members of the Indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé community of Salt Creek, to continue daytime and night-time patrols that document nesting and productivity. The presence of monitors along with MiAmbiente (the environmental ministry of Panama) Park personnel has minimized the take of hawksbill females and nests from the Park and has led to a 10-fold increase in the number of nests deposited since 2003. Construction of the new field station was made possible by the cooperation of MiAmbiente, which has jurisdiction over protected areas and has played a key role in protecting the Park's resources, especially sea turtles. Bastimentos Island National Marine Park was one of the first national marine parks with sea turtle protection as one of its primary goals. The new station was funded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Coastal Wildlife Club of Florida, the Lemmon Foundation, and Only One. The building was dedicated to Chencho Castillo, a former Bocas turtle fisherman, who along with multiple family members has worked diligently to protect sea turtles in the Bocas region since 1987. The station was built on the site of his former camp on the Small Zapatilla Cay.
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