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Chris Pesenti and Wallace J. Nichols. 2002. Signs of Success: Fourth Annual Meeting of the Sea Turtle Conservation Network of the Californias (Grupo Tortuguero de las Californias). Marine Turtle Newsletter 97:14-16.
"A network is non-hierarchical. It is a web of connections among equals. What holds it together is not force, obligation, material incentive, or social contract, but rather shared values and the understanding that some tasks can be accomplished together that could never be accomplished separately. One of the important purposes of a network is simply to remind its members that they are not alone." (Meadows et al. 1992)
The 4th Annual Meeting of the Sea Turtle Conservation Network of the Californias was held in Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico, from January 25-27, 2002. Each year the meeting has taken place over the last weekend in January in Loreto, and with over 160 attendees this year, it has grown to over three times its original size in 1999. This year's event, organized by WiLDCOAST and the Grupo Ecologista Antares and sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund-Mexico, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Ocean Planet Research, IUCN, the Sea of Cortez International Preservation Foundation, Underwater Images Competition, and the Blue Planet Marine Research Foundation, carried the theme "Sea Turtle Conservation ~ The Next Generation" reflecting the progress the Network has made to date in its efforts toward sea turtle preservation along the 4,000 mile-long coastline of the Californias (California, Baja California, Baja California Sur, and the Gulf of California).
The Sea Turtle Conservation Network of the Californias is a web of local fisherman, concerned citizens, students and academics, researchers, and conservationists who work in their local communities to stop the devastation of sea turtle populations along the coast of the Californias. The yearly meeting of the Network gives the group's participants the chance to review achievements, share new strategies, develop future goals, and spread the message of sea turtle conservation in hope of reversing the downward trend among turtle populations along the coast of the Californias. The Sea Turtle Conservation Network of the Californias (Grupo Tortuguero de las Californias) was formed on January 23rd 1999 at the office of the non-profit Grupo Ecologista de Antares, A.C. (GEA) in Loreto, BCS, "to bring together individuals and organizations working for the recovery of Californian sea turtles, to share knowledge, discuss results and issues, plan projects and conduct workshops on basic field research techniques."
At risk in the region are five of the world's seven species of sea turtle, all of which are "threatened" or "endangered." These include the loggerhead, East Pacific green (also known as the black turtle), leatherback, olive ridley, and hawksbill turtles. Even though the killing of sea turtles has been outlawed in Mexico since a 1990 presidential decree, researchers estimate that poachers in the Californias kill up to 35,000 sea turtles a year. The slaughter takes place to feed an increasing demand for turtle meat that has tragically kept pace with population growth in northwestern Mexico and southwestern U.S.
The first morning of this year's conference, groups within the Network presented updates on their respective communities which included: Bahía de Los Angeles, Bahía de Magdalena, Cabo San Lucas, Guerrero Negro, Laguna San Ignacio, La Paz, Loreto, Monterey Bay, Múlege, Punto Abreojos, Mazatlan, Sinalóa, San Diego and Monterey, California, and Colola, Michoacán. Miguel Lizarraga's summary of activities in his community of Puerto San Carlos reflected the efforts taking place in many of the communities. These included: increased vigilance, the mounting of educational campaigns, freeing incidentally captured turtles, discouraging the use of nets in areas frequented by turtles, development of a community sea turtle reserve, and working to expand collaboration with police and other authorities.
Representatives from other groups were able to add to this by recounting their own experiences. The Cabo San Lucas members highlighted the fact that over the past year they had established relations with a local ecotourism outfitter, finding a way to incorporate turtle observation into the company's repertoire of activities. Alfredo Gutiérrez from the Bahía Loreto group showed data collected in the local community based on monitoring campaigns of dead turtles. By looking through refuse sites, the researchers were able to record where shells had been discarded, and assumedly, where sea turtle meat was being consumed. This information could then be used to more accurately target efforts towards education and law enforcement. Students from Múlege and Laguna San Ignacio detailed their efforts at educating primary and secondary school children on the status of sea turtles. Similarly, Hans Fernan of WiLDCOAST in San Diego described his efforts to bring attention to the San Diego Bay's 60 resident green turtles, organizing a poster contest for local school children. While the representative from Bahía de Los Angeles noted that the community's remoteness provided a natural protection for the turtles, current plans of the Mexican federal government to build an Escalera Náutica, or Nautical Ladder, complete with resort hotels, golf courses, marinas and trailer parks promise to shatter this protection. On a positive note, representatives from Michoacán, kept away from the meeting due to current research efforts, forwarded on a slide graphing the numbers recorded of nesting black turtles in the area. From 25,000 in 1970, the numbers plummeted to 4,000 in 1979, 2,000 in 1981 and bottomed out at less than 500 in 2001 until a rise in the 2001-2002 season, during which approximately 2,500 nesting females were counted. The reported noted that this increase in nesting turtles is in part due to the work of communities represented in the Network and conservation efforts focused on black turtle feeding and nursery areas.
In the afternoon sessions, representatives from the six established monitoring groups shared their techniques and results in capturing, tagging, and releasing turtles. Following this, Raquel Briseño of Sea Turtle Information Bank (BITMAR) presented a report on the state of conservation in the Mexican Pacific in which she presented a graphic represented by Figure 1. While the information contained within may seem obvious, it clearly summarizes the need for a multi-faceted "conservation mosaic" approach to achieving successful sea turtle conservation, reflecting many of the efforts made by the local groups in the Sea Turtle Network (Nichols et al. 2000). The following day the conference concluded with workshops on: Sea Turtle Identification, Procedures and Reporting for Stranded Turtles, Basic Research Techniques, Eco-Tourism, and Environmental Education.
In summary, the meeting brought to light several distinct themes. The first of these, and most germane to the successful development of the Network itself, is the importance of active local participation. Without the dedicated work of local fishermen and residents, efforts towards sea turtle conservation in the Californias would undoubtedly fail. WiLDCOAST and the Network have developed an effective model achieving regional environmental gains by working at the local level. The second theme is that successful sea turtle conservation remains dependent upon the four-pronged assault of nesting site protection, protection of feeding and developmental sites, community education, and government participation. This leads into the third theme of institutional failure. In the end, Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can only go so far in filling the vacuum created by ineffective government agencies. Without adequate resources, agencies such as PROFEPA will remain crippled, and altogether unable to fulfill their mandate of enforcing environmental regulations. The last theme of the meeting is that in addition to being a cultural issue, in the end, sea turtle conservation is an economic problem. Without alternative, sustainable development options, and resources to support conservation and management actions, turtle poaching will continue until ultimately, the populations collapse. Those who make and influence policy should keep in mind each of these themes when attempting to address the issue of sea turtle conservation.
The Fifth Annual Meeting of the Sea Turtle Network/Grupo Tortuguero de las Californias will be held on January 24th-26th, 2003 in Loreto, BCS. Contact authors for details.
MEADOWS, D.H., D.L. MEADOWS & J. RANDERS. 1992. Beyond the Limits. Chelsea Green Publishing. Post Mills, Vermont.
NICHOLS, W. J., K.E. BIRD & S. GARCIA. 2000. Community-based research and its application to sea turtle conservation in Bahia Magdalena, BCS, Mexico. Marine Turtle Newsletter 89:4-7.
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