< A detail from a map in a 2007 paper showing (in orange) a region where loggerhead turtles congregate. The area is also a popular fishing spot. The result is high turtle mortality.
Sea turtles have roamed the oceans for close to 200 million years, surviving assaults that doomed the dinosaurs. Around the world different species now face threats ranging from coastal building to poaching and drowning in fish nets.
The latest hot spot for turtle trouble is Magdalena Bay, an 870-square-mile haven for whales, dolphins, sea birds and five species of sea turtles tucked along the Pacific coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula north of the tourist hub of Cabo San Lucas. Forces large and small are converging on small-scale fishing operations in the bay, towns like Puerto Adolfo López Mateos (see map), and nearby ocean waters, with the goal of cutting turtle deaths while sustaining incomes.
I encourage you to watch a new 15-minute film, “¡Viva la Tortuga! Meshing Conservation and Culture in Magdalena Bay,” to learn more:
This is the third in a prize-winning series of short documentaries on sustainable use of the world’s living resources created by Pace University students in a course I co-teach with Prof. Maria Luskay. (I posted on the previous two films, on shrimp farming and cork forests.)
Our latest effort had its debut last night on the Pace campus in Pleasantville, N.Y., and there’s a public screening and discussion at the Manhattan campus at 4 p.m. today. You can join a Twitter discussion about the issues and the film using the tag #PaceBaja.
The documentary chronicles how communities that once depended on sea turtle poaching and other activities depleting the region’s rich natural resources are now testing a new economic model, one built around fishing with turtle conservation in mind and tourism focused on the area’s extraordinary marine life.
The short film provides an intimate portrait of Grupo Tortuguero, a coalition of groups in the region working to balance economic advancement with environmental protection and striving to create a better life for both the community and the endangered sea turtles.
The course blog, managed by Adam Yogel, has covered the students’ learning process in shooting and editing the film but also kept track of relevant news, including the decision by United States fisheries officials to single out loggerhead deaths in this part of Mexico in a January report to Congress on improving international fisheries management.
The prime concern is a recent spike in loggerhead losses associated with gill-net fishing in ocean waters near Magdalena Bay. The barrier beach separating the bay and ocean there is sometimes called “Playa de Los Muertos” — the beach of the dead — because it is so littered with turtle remains and other dead marine life.
Mexican officials have been in quiet discussions with American marine fisheries agencies and with some biologists studying turtle deaths in Baja, but publicly have pushed back, questioning whether fishing is the cause of the pulse of recent loggerhead deaths.
Just last week, several Mexican newspapers carried stories quoting officials asserting that other threats, including toxic algae, could be to blame.
As Yogel reported a few days ago, conservation groups have ramped up pressure, petitioning American fisheries agency to impose trade sanctions.
Most exciting to me is evidence that innovation, both in new business models and fishing gear, can make a big difference. Watch the sections of the film on the work of RED Sustainable Travel, which now employs fishermen part of the year to run turtle surveys involving visiting students and tourists. We used this group for our trip and give it high marks. (We paid full price.)
The fishing innovation is stringing LED lights on gill nets, a technique developed and tested by John Wang of the University of Hawaii and studied in the field by Jesse Senko of Arizona State University. (A five-minute version of the documentary focuses on his project.)
Here’s an illustration showing that method taken from an animation produced for our film by Lou Guarneri:
There’s more to come, including a Google+ Hangout on Air with Wallace J. Nichols, a turtle biologist and founder of Grupo Tortuguero who was a vital source for our project. Also please read the students’ reflections on the filmmaking process in an EarthDesk post by team member Megan Spaulding.
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