Win the hearts and minds of the people.
The importance of protecting wildlife isn’t exclusive to conservationists, but also a concern of local communities as well. Endangered species not only serve as a vital role in many different ecosystems, but they also have crucial economic and social value. The survival of endangered species is crucial to the exponential growth of the local communities living alongside them.
To add, a previous study in Victoria explored the links between human and ecosystem health, and analyzed the benefits members of the community saw during their involvement in conservation groups. This study took place within six rural communities, and there were 102 total individuals who participated:
“The results indicate that involvement in the management of land for conservation may contribute to both the health and well-being of members, and to the social capital of the local community. The members of the land management groups rated their general health higher, reported visiting the doctor less often, felt safer in the local community, and utilized the skills that they have acquired in their lifetime..,”Moore, M., Townsend, M., & Oldroyd, J. (2006, November 11).
This study supports the theory that conservation programs who involve local people not only benefit ecosystem health, but also is attributed to the health of community members. Community members are more likely to work together, ultimately increasing societal functionality. People felt safer within their society, public health was rated higher, and they benefited from learning new skillsets.
Tying this knowledge into sea turtle conservation, a previous study on the island of El Bluff, Panama, showed that residents of indigenous communities recognized a need for increased, local intervention regarding sea turtle protection:
“Residents of the small indigenous community at Bluff Beach also took note of what was happening. Their concern for the sea turtles nesting at Bluff Beach became the catalyst for the creation of a local community conservation organization, the Bocas Hawksbill Association,”Harrison, E. (2013).
This study is very critical in order to understand the importance of community members in the fight to protect sea turtles. Utilizing the resource of community members during conservation programs increases species protection, and supervision in the field. Local people will always have eyes on the coast and will report back to the program with any news or updates when staff members can’t.
In addition, community members become invested in the success of the program. By creating these personal connections, conservationists and stakeholders within the community form a network of support, for not only the program, but the species. Someone who frequently is on the coast and already has an interest in sea turtle conservation will have a different perspective by being directly involved.
To add, training and offering direct involvement to community members creates personal connections between the person, the species, and the program. Historically, in smaller indigenous communities, people are culturally accustomed to derive benefits from sea turtles; wether that be from catching, trading, the need of turtle oil (for cosmetics and skin care needs), artifacts, consumption, etc. Offering a different perspective and furthered education of the marine turtle generates an alternative to the poaching by creating personal connections with the species.
This ties into the concept of ecotourism which has started to gain traction due to its significance to indigenous communities. For example, some communities in Mexico, such as Baja California Sur, Mexico, are beginning to heavily utilize the concept of ecotourism to offer an alternative to poaching. Multiple studies were done, over the course of a year, to understand the reasons behind poaching, so conservationists could begin alternative plans within conservation programs:
“…We conducted eight… interviews with sea turtle poachers… to determine the drivers influencing them. The most prevalent reasons for illegal poaching were direct economic benefits, lack of law enforcement… and strong family tradition,”Ackers, R., AA. Aguirre, S., JP. Baland, J., A. Balmford, A., Bandura, A., Becker, G., . . . Young, E. (1985, January 01).
With that being said, community involvement is not only important for the species, but for the health of society and its surrounding ecosystems. By conserving endangered species there is room for economic growth, increased social capitol, population growth of species, creation of jobs, among many other factors. These opportunities create economic stability, job benefits, governmental support within their community, eliminates unemployment and forces the implementation of environmental laws.