The Marine Turtle Center (MTC/Center) in La Coronilla, Uruguay, was established to promote conservation of marine turtles and their habitats through environmental education and responsible ecotourism. The Center had been closed for the past four years due to deterioration of the facilities, and this award funded a remodel of the visitor center as well as several community outreach efforts.
MTC re-opened its doors from January 1 – April 30, 2012 to make information about marine turtle biology and conservation accessible to a wide and varied public audience, from school children of local communities to tourists. MTC focuses on the conservation status of turtles globally as well as the importance of the Cerro Verde and Coronilla Islands Coastal and Marine Protected Area in Uruguay for turtle feeding and nesting habitat. The remodeled Center had interpretive panels covering biodiversity of the local Marine Protected Area, materials related to different species of turtles and primary threats to their survival, an area demonstrating turtle rehabilitation efforts, displays of fresh water and terrestrial tortoises and a play area for children. Guided tours were offered to all visitors, and the Center received approximately 15,000 visitors during its 4-month season. Almost all visitors were tourists, with 72% percent from Uruguay, followed by Argentina and Brazil. The rehabilitation area was a new element for the Center, and was an especially effective tool for communicating conservation threats as visitors could observe some of the direct effects on rescued turtles.
MTC also hosted numerous activities to engage both local communities and tourists in events that promoted marine turtle conservation. The Center is a rehabilitation site during the summer months for weak or injured turtles. In 2012, MTC veterinary staff cared for 24 turtles and used their release back into the wild to celebrate turtle conservation and educate the crowds that gathered to observe. The Center collaborated with other local NGOs on beach cleanup events that also included art projects and educational displays for over 200 children and adults. MTC took advantage of Carnaval celebrations in February 2012 by organizing a “Rhythms of the Sea” parade for children from La Coronilla, emphasizing marine flora and fauna of the region. Finally, MTC coordinated the 9th Annual Turtle Festival in June 2012, engaging almost 300 children from the schools of several local communities in a wide variety of activities to stimulate creativity and curiosity related to marine conservation and sea turtles in particular. ($5,240)