It’s been two years since we’ve reported on turtle conservation in Gales Point and today, we travelled to the village to bring you the latest turtle tagging event with the Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary.  As we’ve covered over the years, the Hawksbill Sea Turtle is critically endangered, but it is protected in Belize and there are a number of initiatives to help safeguard this species.  One area of Belize where there is a healthy population of this sea turtle is Gales Point Manatee. The Wildlife Sanctuary in the village has been leading the conservation of these marine animals.  For several years now, they have been tracking the migration patterns of these turtles to learn more about them in order to strengthen the management and research.  Today, reporter Andrea Polanco went to meet the latest turtle to be tagged and because she is the first of the season during the pandemic, she was given the name Corona. Here’s the story.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

A hundred plus pound Hawksbill Turtle – estimated to be older than seventy years – Corona the Hawksbill Turtle is on her shell, flapping on a beach in Gales Point Manatee. She is impatient to get on with her journey – but a small team of turtle conservationists can’t allow her to leave just yet. Corona must be fitted with a small tracking device that will gather important information about her journey that will help to monitor her species that is critically endangered across the world.

Kevin Andrewin, Chairman, Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary

“These turtles keep on showing us the migration pattern; they keep on showing us that they come back and nest and that that is a good nesting site for them and so that is why we keep on tagging these turtles because we get a lot of information from them.”

Andrea Polanco

“How far you seen these turtles go?”

Kevin Andrewin

“One is still in Honduras. It hasn’t returned yet. And then we tagged one that went all the way past Cuba. So, we know that they go from different country to country. Some of them go all the way down to Puerto Rico, Jamaica and different parts of the world.”

And so today, the team, led by Kevin Andrewin of the Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary and his interns – the children of Gales Point, is using this GPS tracking device to provide that information about Corona the Hawksbill. Before it is attached, Corona is tagged in the folds of her skin and her shell is prepared for the device which is sealed with a marine based epoxy to secure the device in place for a couple years.

Kevin Andrewin

“We take the process after the measuring and we gotta roll up the epoxy so that it is mixed up good and when it gets a little hard we get another set of epoxy that we call the paste on it that is the one that seals so that it gets harder before it goes into the water. That is the last step that we do before we release the turtle into the water and then it gets tougher, That lasts only for an amount of years – it could last maybe five or six years. After that the tag goes off and eventually the barnacles grow and that will still come off the turtle.”

Corona was sent off on her journey once she was equipped with her device. She moved on down the beach headed straight for the sea where she swam away. Now that she is in the water – every time she comes up for air the tag dries off and sends data up to the satellite which pinpoints her location and she can be tracked online through her tag number. Once she goes back under water the satellite tag goes off. And because these turtles nest every two to three years, on average they spend a year or so away from their nesting sites – so by tagging them conservationists get information about their movements; their nesting sites; and other data that helps better decision making and research into the species. While the population of the Hawksbill Turtles is dwindling across the world – the beaches here in Gales Point are said to have the highest concentration of bests and the biggest population in the region. But it wasn’t always like this – the work to get here started thirty years ago. Before that, they were being eaten, their shells used for jewelry, their habitats destroyed and at times they were victims of poachers and gillnets.  But once the Hawksbill was protected by law – and the villagers were educated about these turtles – the community supported the efforts. Today, children as young as seven years old are leading turtle conservation in Gales Point Manatee:

Kadia Andrewin, Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary

“From since I was eight years old I have been working with my father and the Hawksbill Hope. It has been a wonderful experience; tagging them; releasing them. It has been wonderful because I have learnt so much about the turtles during the years. I have learnt about how to track their crawling; clutch size; the length; how long they live; how much they weigh; and how to differentiate them.”

Angel Andrewin, Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary

“They are lovely and we want to protect them and stuff.”

Andrea Polanco

“Do you think that when you get older you will continue to do this work?”

Angel Andrewin

“Yes, ma’am.”

Andrea Polanco

“Why is that?”

Angel Andrewin

“Because I love animals and I want to protect them.”

Kelvin Andrewin, Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary

“When I grow up big I want be like my dad; tagging turtles; walking beach; finding turtle nest. I want to do all of that like my dad.”

Andrewin has been leading turtle conservation in his home village of Gales Point. And for the past several years he has worked with research students from the USA. But teaching the children from his community about turtle conservation is one of his biggest accomplishments.

Kevin Andrewin

“One of the most important things is that this is the largest nesting beach for Belize and that is very important . These students, if when we get old and we retire they can continue the work. They can continue to protect these turtles. Protect the wildlife sanctuary and all the endangered species in it. So, it is important for them to start at an early age because I started out from I was fifteen and then I end up you know. So, the same thing I want to pass on from generation to generation.”

Channel 5