The Azuero Peninsula is one of the best places to see turtles in Panama. This part of the country is made up of three provinces: Herrera, Los Santos and Veraguas. It is possible to find turtles in Panama from the coast of Las Tablas in Los Santos all the way to Malena in Veraguas. Those that come to visit can see turtles in Playa Venao with Save the Turtles foundation. Playa Venao is one of Panama’s most famous surf beaches, but it is also the home for many turtles!
Save the Turtles
Save the Turtles was started by Scott and Polly. Polly used to live in Panama as a child and the couple came back when their child was 5 for a bilingual education. Scott said that they were here during the pandemic when things was quiet and nature was able to thrive. One night, he was walking the beach and he saw a turtle laying her eggs. He realized that Playa Venao was an important beach for turtles, so this motivated him to take action.
They set up a crowd fund to get $900 to start a nursery which was first located next to Surf Dojo. Now it is located near La Barca within Eco Venao Lodge. This nursery is needed as a safe haven to keep the turtle eggs until they are ready to hatch. They had a great first season in 2021 with 4,441 babies released at a 92% survival rate. In the current season they currently have a 90% survival rate with 14,500 baby turtles released into the ocean. The first days of 2023 were very exciting. On January 4 when I visited, they had 360 babies being released!
Unassisted survival rate is just 0.1% since nests have many threats, including humans, birds, fish, and dogs among other perils. Panama has laws to protect turtles, but authorities do not do the best job enforcing them, so non-profits like Save The Turtles are very important.
You can help by becoming a member, donating, buying merchandising or volunteering. Save the Turtles is a nonprofit community-based organization (OBC) registered in Panama’s Ministry of Environment. They do beach patrols, nest relocation, eco-tourism, educational outreach, scientific research, and nursery management.
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
There are five species of turtles in Panama that live in the Pacific Ocean. These are Hawksbill , Olive Ridley, Green turtle, Loggerhead ,and Leatherback turtles. Save The Turtles in Playa Venao focuses mostly on the Olive Ridley turtles (known as tortuga lora in Spanish) which is the second smallest turtle after the Kemp’s ridley turtle which only lives in the Atlantic Ocean. Olive ridley sea turtle can be found in the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean.
These turtles in Panama have an olive color on their carapace which grows up to 61 cm (2 ft) in length. Males and females grow up to the same size, but females have carapace which are more rounded. They can weight up to 50 kg (110 lb). Olive ridley sea turtles live in up to 80 countries which have warm and tropical waters.
Originally, they were the most abundant sea turtles but that changed when humans started harvesting them for commercial reasons. They are not considered endangered (only in Mexico where they were over harvested) only threatened. However, their numbers have declined 28-32% in the last 20 years. Annual nesting females has been reduced to 852,550 by 2008.
Olive ridley sea turtles are famous because they do synchronized mass nesting, known as arribadas. There are two beaches where you can see this in Azuero: Isla Cañas and La Marinera in Tonosi. Only 11 beaches in the world get this arribadas so having two in Azuero is quite special! Other beaches get solitary nesting which is the most common nesting approach.