Dermatemys Program Coordinator

Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), in furthering our conservation goals for the Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii), are excited to announce Dr. Raymon Edward “Ed” Boles as the first Dermatemys Program Coordinator. This newly created position within the BFREE organization aims to advance our collaborative Central American River Turtle program. Through the Dermatemys Program Coordinator, TSA and BFREE are better positioned to make achievements toward our long term objective of restoring self-sustaining populations of Central American River Turtle in Belize, as well as Guatemala and Mexico.

Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), in furthering our conservation goals for the Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii), are excited to announce Dr. Raymon Edward “Ed” Boles as the first Dermatemys Program Coordinator. Photo: Central American River Turtle by Dustin Smith

As Dermatemys Program Coordinator longtime conservationist Dr. Boles will for one year fulfill the duties of this newly created position while laying a path for his successor, the Assistant Dermatemys Program Coordinator. To ensure the long-term viability of self-sustaining, ecologically relevant populations of Central American River Turtle in Belize and beyond, Dr. Boles’ position is tasked with making conservation action headway as part of our strategic plan through a combination of promoting legislative action, community-based participation, protection of key habitats, population monitoring and augmentation, environmental education, essential natural history research, collaboration with and between key stakeholders, increase local stakeholder participation, and advocating for the Central American River Turtle to be officially recognized as the National Reptile of Belize.

“We have reached a pivotal point with this program, and we need to take it to the next level, which means effectively engaging local communities to help promote the protection of Dermatemys.  Due to his years of experience in Belize, and knowledge of local stakeholders and grassroots organizations, Ed Boles is the perfect person to help guide this process,” said Rick Hudson, President of Turtle Survival Alliance.

Dr. Ed Boles is well prepared to take on these daunting tasks, having worked in the conservation field for more than 30 years in both the United States and Belize. Boles was born in Jackson, Mississippi, where he would grow up “getting his hands dirty” as a farmhand on a large cattle ranch, tending to livestock and harvesting hay and other crops. He would later work as a deckhand, volunteer hand, and research technician aboard barge transports, research vessels, and for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along the Gulf of Mexico before taking his interest in the natural sciences to the University of Southern Mississippi. There he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree.

Ed continued his pursuit of higher education, receiving a Master of Science degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and, 14 years later, a PhD in Environmental Science from Jackson State University in 1999. In the 20+ years since earning his Doctorate, Ed has achieved a diverse resume through positions in academia and NGOs as an Associate Professor, field course instructor, technical specialist, environmental and watershed consultant, and programs coordinator.

Dr. Ed Boles snorkels one of the Central American River Turtle ponds at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center at BFREE. Photo: Heather Barrett

The Central American River Turtle, commonly known as Hicatee in Belize, is one of the most enigmatic turtles on Earth—it’s also one of the most endangered. The species is the only surviving member of its genus and family, Dermatemydidae, an ancient lineage of turtle dating back 65 million years. Preserving this species in the wild is of the utmost importance.

“After 12 years of program development, the TSA/BFREE partnership has never been stronger, and the creation of this new Dermatemys Program Coordinator position will tip the scales in the right direction for the long-term survival of this iconic species. Ed Boles brings decades of experience and leadership from a freshwater ecological perspective, and his strong relationships with government, NGO’s, and local community members will foster the necessary collaboration needed to create a holistic vision to ensure the Hicatee has the best chance of survival into the future,” said Jacob Marlin, Executive Director of BFREE.

The Central American River Turtle is native to rivers, lagoons, oxbows, and flooded forests of Belize, northern Guatemala, and southeastern Mexico. There, the turtle spends nearly 100% of its time in the water, having so greatly evolved for an aquatic life that they struggle when on land. During the wet season the herbivorous Central American River Turtle moves amongst flooded forests nearby to their home waterbody in search of leaves, fruits, and mates. During the dry season they retreat to the deepest water pockets. Because of the turtles’ inability to make overland treks, they are relegated to these pockets until the next wet season—and this puts them at great risk.

The Central American River Turtle, commonly known as Hicatee in Belize, is one of the most enigmatic turtles on Earth—it’s also one of the most endangered. Preserving this species in the wild is of the utmost importance. Photo: Donald McKnight

As the largest freshwater turtle in Central America (up to 60 cm; 24 in) and with palatable flesh, the Central American River Turtle has for a millennia provided a source of subsistence meat for indigenous communities of Mesoamerica (Mesoamerica is a historical and important region and cultural area in southern North America and most of Central America). In the last century though the species has been over-hunted for celebratory consumption and is now highly prized as a delicacy for important social events like holidays, weddings, and birthdays. Due to over-hunting the species is now listed as one of the top 25 most endangered species of freshwater turtle in the world. In Belize, the country regarded as the species’ stronghold, the Central American River Turtle is considered to be at highest risk of local extinction. This once widespread turtle is in desperate need of greater protection and innovative conservation actions.

The TSA and BFREE are at pivotal point in our long-term strategic plan for the Central American River Turtle and we are confident that the experience, knowledge, and direction brought to our program by Dr. Ed Boles will move us in the right direction toward our greater conservation goals for this Critically Endangered species.

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