The first Sea Turtle Festival of Panama happened in 2010 and now we're on our third! They always take place in Armila, the southern most Kuna Village in the Comarca of Kuna Yala, at the Colombian border. Because May is Yauknii (the moon of turtles) in the Kuna language, and because Armila is one the most important nesting beaches for the endangered leatherback turtle, one might expect there are quite a few suisuiret (leatherbacks) in attendance and you would be right! Participants are able to see nesting leatherbacks both at night and in the early morning. Some are content with finding the ones closest to the village (less than ¼ mile walk) but those that stay up until midnight and walk the 7km beach could count as many as 55 nesting turtles and hundreds of hatchlings making their first perilous journey from nest to sea under a nearly full moon and clear skies. Attendees include members of the Kuna General Congress, the Panamanian Government Environmental agencies ARAP and ANAM, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center, The Caribbean Conservation Corporation, The Panamanian Ministry of Tourism, The Panamanian Ministry of Industry (to promote the amazing Molas of the Kuna), Ocean Revolution, a handful of tourists and Sailas and community members of many neighboring communities including teachers and students from the Rudolfo Chairi School in Nargana where they have a fully grounded sea turtle protection program. The 15 representatives from Nargana travelled 9 hours by boat to attend.
The establishment of a scientific research outpost, new collaborations between Panamanian agencies and international NGOs, the educational upgrading of both scientific and cultural knowledge about these magnificent animals and the benefit to the host communities themselves in terms of revenue from the festival and recognition of their efforts are the unqualified outcomes of this festival. But, for the ancient leatherbacks, whose ancestors nested on beaches shared with Tyrannosaurus Rex, the good news is that the human inhabitants of their terrestrial world have new tools and new allies in the fight for their protection.