Sea turtle conservation in Baja California, Mexico, presents many unique challenges. Among them is the vastness of the peninsula, long distances between communities, intense fishing activities, a growing tourism industry and a persistent demand for turtle products. Coordinated regional research and recovery efforts have been notable but few, and communication between researchers, conservationists and fishermen, a key to sea turtle recovery, has been lacking. Five species of sea turtle are known to inhabit Baja California waters-which provide important foraging and developmental areas for turtles from as far away as Japan and southern Mexico-and all five species are considered endangered or threatened. In order to be successful, recovery efforts must involve the numerous fishing communities along the length of the 1000 mile-long peninsula and support enforcement of existing conservation laws.
With this in mind, the first meeting of the Baja California Sea Turtle Group (Grupo Tortuguero de Baja California-GTBC) was held on 23rd January 1999 at the office of the non-profit Grupo Ecologista de Antares, A.C. (GEA) in Loreto, BCS. Attendees included members of 5 fishing communities, government institutions, academia, non-profit organizations, lay people and tourists. The one-day meeting focussed on sharing basic information on sea turtle biology, history of exploitation, nesting beach programmes and the legal framework for their protection. In a discussion that emphasized the equality of each participant, moderated by GEA's director Fernando Arcas, the topics of incidental catch, illegal harvest and specific regional concerns were approached. The group voted to remain focussed on community-based conservation, education and basic research and to encourage continuing involvement of fishing community members at future meetings. Group projects for 1999 include the printing of a bilingual guide to the sea turtles of the region, establishment of a sea turtle stranding network, and development of an educational internet webpage.
In this sparsely populated region it is the fishermen who interact with sea turtles daily and their daily decisions that determine the future of the populations. By sitting down together with the common goal of learning how to promote the recovery of Baja California's sea turtles, the BCSTG hopes to provide an opportunity for the various stakeholders to collaborate and co-operate. The meeting will become an annual event in Loreto due to its central location and proximity to a National Marine Park.
GEA, Nature Conservancy, Chelonian Research Foundation, Oceanic Resource Foundation, ASUPMATOMA and CRIP-Ensenada pledged continuing support for the meeting.
[Note: the organization is now known simply as Grupo Tortuguero, as its scope of work ranges throughout western Mexico and the world]
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