There is a growing problem in Mexico. Eating sea turtles has been outlawed since 1990, yet as many as 35,000 turtles are killed and consumed in Baja California. Five of the seven sea turtle species – all listed as endangered, vulnerable or threatened – occupy the water surrounding the Baja California peninsula. These waters are full of nutrients so it’s no wonder the green, loggerhead, leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles call it home.
The 1960s introduction of mono-filament nets and motorboats changed everything for those harvesting sea turtles. Before these modern amenities were introduced it was hard work for a fisherman to catch a sea turtle with a hand-held harpoon. Fishing technology changed and is doing massive damage to their numbers.
The green sea turtles, and loggerhead, are in the most trouble as those seem to be the most commonly eaten. The black turtle, a green turtle subspecies, population has fallen more than 95 percent over the past three decades. Mexico rarely enforces its laws against killing the turtles and even when they do its minimal punishment. Some of the worst offenders are those who can afford the expensive price tag on a turtle – government officials and politicians.
Baja fishermen are taking matters into their own hands. So far eight fishing communities have joined forces in the creation of the Sea Turtle Conservation Network of the Californias. Advertisements and research are also fueling the fight. Optimism is high with seeing more black turtles in the water today and the highest number of female black turtles coming ashore to lay eggs. “What’s important to remember,” says Wallace J. Nichols, a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences and codirector of Wildcoast, “is that these numbers still represent a population decline of more than 95 percent since 1970. We have a tremendous amount of work to do before we can talk about the recovery of the black turtle.”
To learn more about the problems facing sea turtles and what’s being done to protect them, check out National Wildlife Federation’s ‘Baja Turtle Blues: Saving endangered sea turtles calls for more than protecting the reptiles on their nesting beaches.’