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2011-02-04 | project

The role of coastal communities on the management of marine turtles in Central America: The case of Ostional Wildlife Refuge

To understand under which conditions a co-management alternative (a shared effort between the central government and the local community) might work to guarantee the sustainable use of a complex mobile common pool resource such as marine turtles.

 

The livelihoods of poor people in many coastal areas of Central America depend heavily on marine ecosystems. The direct consumption of marine turtles (meat, eggs, shell, leather and bone) and their non-consumptive uses (mainly tourism) have had important economic and cultural benefits to these people. Beyond these, marine turtles are considered as a flagship species for conservation. Still, different factors (mostly human) threaten the biological sustainability of these endangered species and hence, the well being of people that depend on them.

 

More recently, the tourism industry around turtles has added a new dimension of opportunities and problems. On one side, it offers the alternative to switch from consumptive uses to their conservation. On the other side, a poor designed strategy to attract tourists may entail new hazards such as overcrowded beaches, increased costs of monitoring consumptive use and disruption of traditional social structures. The definition of fine-tuned policies that align the different incentives in these complex settings is of paramount importance from an ecological, social and economic perspective; however, it entails an incredible challenge to scholars, policy makers and local communities.

 

Community-based approaches aim to build on local knowledge and incentives to better define enforceable rules to the sustainable use of turtles. The conditions under which communities can devise their own institutions to manage this kind of common-pool resources have been analyzed extensively (Ostrom 1990, 2007; Agrawal 2001). However, more work is needed to understand their robustness over time to external shocks and to study what type of individual socioeconomic characteristics (economic incentives, age, gender, norms and values, among others) explain the individual compliance with a locally devised set of rules or institutions.

 

Our general objective is to better understand under which conditions a co-management alternative (a shared effort between the central government and the local community) might work to guarantee the sustainable use of a complex mobile common pool resource such as marine turtles. In addition the project aims to study, from the individual perspective, the compliance with locally devised rules for harvesting turtle eggs. Learning about the violations of these rules might teach us how well the institutions are working and how cooperation might be increased.

 

We have selected Ostional Wildlife Refuge as a case study due to its peculiarities: host of one of the largest marine turtle egg nesting population in the world; different institutional arrangements (with different degrees of community participation) have been implemented leading to significant differences in outcomes; consumptive use of eggs is legal under certain restrictions; and tourism industry is growing fast, among other important characteristics.

 

Our project will contribute to the existing literature on the conditions that fosters the effectiveness of co-management institutions for wildlife management. We also want to contribute to the local efforts to devise new policies to cope with external shocks/disturbances that threaten the population of turtles and hence, the flow of economic benefits to local people and the human kind.