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January 26, 2012

Surfing for Sea Turtle Conservation in Guatemala

By Trent Hodges
Image by Alicima Lee

Surfing is a sport that can be effective in raising environmental consciousness; especially in developing countries.  When people are better able to perceive their surroundings not just as a resource, but as a vital aspect to the human soul, stewardship and conservation become topics of conversation.  This was the driving idea behind the creation of a surf competition in the community of Hawaii, Guatemala.  Though the area lacks the crystal blue reef breaks of the surf kingdom out west, there are fun beachbreak waves, vitally important mangrove habitat, and prime nesting grounds for the olive ridley sea turtle.

It is estimated that over 90 percent of the sea turtle eggs that are deposited on Guatemala’s beaches are sold in the marketplace.  The eggs are consumed raw with orange juice and are believed to be an aphrodisiac.  As Guatemala is a poor country, many people still rely on the trade of eggs for a living.  Conservation therefore, has to be a balance of education and the creation of new economic opportunities.  A surfing competition has the ability to do both.  Creating some tourism in areas heavily dependent on their natural resources while also spreading some environmental awareness.

With the help of an organized group of surfers from the capital city called “Los Hermanos de Las Olas,” a surf competition was advertised throughout the country and through all modes of communication, human and technological.  The surf event coincided with a festival celebrating the presence of sea turtles and encouraging their protection.  All of the money for the event raised through entrance fees was donated to the turtle hatcheries in order to put more eggs in the ground and release more hatchlings into the ocean. 

On the morning of the event, the ancient wave gods of Hawaii packed their alaias and sailed down to Guatemala providing some extremely fun, punchy waves filling the competition with stoke and energy.  Along with all of the money raised going to sea turtle conservation, educational materials and information were passed along to the public.  Thanks to a generous donation of materials by WiLDCOAST, all the kiddies learned more about sea turtle biology and how to protect them.  A banner of El Hijo del Santo, the wrestler and “El Defensor del Mar” marked the conservation booth headquarters and watched over the surf event with vigilant eyes, scoping out those who would dare think about eating a sea turtle egg.

At the end of the day, waves were ripped, turtles were saved, and everybody left with a sense of stoke and appreciation of the ocean environment we all enjoy.  The Hawaiian gods sailed back across the sea to prepare for the oncoming winter leaving footprints and memories of the gifts the ocean provides us.  Thanks to WiLDCOAST for the support and the encouragement in this event. The concept of surfing and environmentalism is like peanut butter and jelly…. so good together.

Trent Hodges is a WiLDCOAST and Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala.