Sarah Otterstrom is a conservation scientist with over 20 years of experience in Central America. She has a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of California, Davis, and was named an Ashoka Fellow in 2015. In 2005, Sarah founded Paso Pacifico, a biodiversity conservation organization that works to protect and restore threatened wildlife, including many species of turtles.
Sarah fell in love with turtles during her graduate research on the beaches of Nicaragua in the early 2000s. While camping out on the beach, Sarah was fortunate enough to witness many “arribadas” where thousands of sea turtles nest over the span of a few days. This experience also opened her eyes to the dangers these beautiful and mysterious creatures face on a regular basis. Despite the efforts of the Nicaraguan army, poachers and rangers filled the beaches to steal thousands of newly-laid turtle eggs. This intense experience helped Sarah realize just how special these ancient reptiles truly are, and greatly influenced her decision to dedicate her life to protecting them.
Through Paso Pacifico, Sarah has been able to continue building upon her passion for protecting turtles, including the Central American Painted Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima manni). Sarah’s current focus is to understand the population and demographics around this species in Central America. These colorful turtles dot the forest floor in Nicaragua and play an important role in maintaining overall forest health. Unfortunately, despite widespread distribution throughout western Central America, the Painted Wood Turtle is now under threat because of massive global trade, some of which is illegal. With the help of her team and Paso Pacifico’s partners which include the Turtle Conservancy, Sarah is working with government agencies in Nicaragua to protect these creatures and ensure that all turtles taken out of the country are done so legally and that these do not originate from wild populations.