Protecting hawksbill sea turtle eggs using community incentive programs

Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO)
Published: 19 August 2015
Last edited: 09 November 2021
remove_red_eye 10426 Views


The Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO) promotes the recovery of critically endangered hawksbill turtles in the eastern Pacific Ocean, which is considered one of the world's most endangered sea turtle populations. ICAPO has achieved unprecedented results (e.g., >98% nest protection and strong community support) at the primary hawksbill nesting grounds in El Salvador and Nicaragua through implementation of an innovative incentive program that rewards locals for protecting hawksbills.


Central America
North America
South America
Scale of implementation
Deep sea
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Ecosystem services
Fisheries and aquaculture
Local actors
Protected and conserved areas governance
Other theme
sustainable tourism, coastal cities, and maritime transport
Ecosystem loss
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Unemployment / poverty


Hawksbill nesting sites in El Salvador and Nicaragua (Eastern Pacific)


Unsustainable harvest (poaching) of critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle eggs. • 80% population decline of hawksbill turtles in the last century. • Only 400-600 adult female hawksbills surviving in the eastern Pacific Ocean. • Lack of education and awareness about the endangered status of hawksbill turtles. • Insufficient conservation and protection policy for hawksbill and other sea turtles. • Impoverished conditions of coastal communities that rely on hawksbill resources.


Hawksbill turtles, local community members, fishermen, tourists, volunteers, governments.

How do the building blocks interact?

ICAPO sees the conservation and protection of the hawksbill turtle nesting grounds in the Pacific as essential for the restoration of the species. Working with local inhabitants to collect data on nesting turtles and hatchlings improves the science we need to help this species. Once turtles make it out into the wild the fight for survival is not over. We monitor them at various stages of their life to increase our understanding and establish effective ways to protect them. That is why ICAPO works with local fisherman to implement strategies with alternative gear to reduce sea turtle bycatch. To further the likelihood of survival and population growth, we collaborate with several stakeholders to establish and enforce marine turtle protected habitats. We find and identify new habitats for hawksbill turtles to increase our outreach and effectiveness. Throughout all of this we facilitate tourism to conservation areas to increase awareness, education and support of this special species. We follow these special turtles from beginning to end, increasing our understanding of them in order to more effectively help and protect them.


• Ecological: New hope for the species. Previously though to be extinct along the Pacific coast of America, ICAPO's work has led to the discovery of several important nesting areas, as well as the identification of numerous foraging hotspots. Monitoring and conservation projects have been established at the most critical sites. • Social and economic: New livelihood opportunities for community members. Project teams educate and provide job opportunities for local egg collectors, converting them from hawksbill poachers to protectors. • Social and political: New policies and strategies. ICAPO researcher and findings are published in peer-reviewed literature and integrated into national and international hawksbill conservation Management strategies.


David Melero, ICAPO's Alternative Livelihoods Program Director: “Our egg incentive approach contrasts to that of most sea turtle conservation programs, which have historically attempted to push out local poachers/community members, leaving them embittered and with limited options to generate incomes, a scenario which often leads to major conflict in subsequent years. Our innovative, inclusive approach is largely responsible for our unprecedented conservation successes, which includes a reduction in egg poaching from 100% to almost zero! The incentive program has also played a fundamental role in solidifying the extremely strong support the project receives from community members... they love this project."

Contributed by's picture

Ben Scheelk The Ocean Foundation

Other contributors

The Ocean Foundation
Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO)
The Ocean Foundation