The Intersection

Loggerhead sea turtles captured the imagination of marine enthusiasts everywhere long before Crush made his big screen debut in Finding Nemo. They’re among the oldest creatures on earth and have remained essentially unchanged for 110 million years. That’s a pretty long time considering we boring ‘anatomically modern’ homo sapiens have only been wandering around for about 200,000 years. No contest. Loggerheads are endangered and the North Pacific population has been decimated by hunting, bycatch, and loss of nesting beaches. And yet, a chance to do something that might make a difference by giving them a shot at recovery…

i-642dc720d2b9ce2ce178179fdaab3de5-image002.jpgBaja California hosts a longline shark fishery that incidentally kills hundreds of loggerheads every year. (Longlines are miles-long lengths of gear set on the ocean floor with baited hooks). When turtles move through the area to feed and rest, they often swallow the hooks or become entangled in gear. This means lots of dead loggerheads.

There’s a little place called Lopez Mateos in Central Baja where outreach and conservation efforts have resulted in social pressure to stop destructive longline practices. And get this, fishermen are now actually willing to stop if we buy their gear. Translation: Sans longlines, as many as 600 loggerheads would be spared annually. In my opinion, it could be the most cost effective turtle restoration and conservation effort in history. The Ocean Conservancy (TOC) agrees and they’re hoping to raise $10,000 to support a local buyout. Sure, it’s one project in a single community, but would also serve as a low cost case study which if successful will be replicated Baja and beyond.

Okay to be honest, I admit I was more than a little skeptical of yet another buyout, so asked TOC how this would actually keep anyone from coming back into the area. Wouldn’t fishermen just start longlining again in a few years? The satisfying response from the folks on the ground after the jump…

And for anyone interested in making a contribution, email me at and I’ll provide more detail.

While they won’t long-line, they will remain fishing (with far less destructive gear),in the region. They will be one form of enforcement. Community pressure and supervision will be another enforcement tool…since the community has adopted the goal of turtle conservation and building a conservation-tourism industry. When there is an economic incentive for community members to run businesses based on taking tourists to see the turtles, that creates significant community pressure and supervision to ensure that ‘turtle wasteful’ fishing practices are not re-introduced.

I’m not saying this is perfect and foolproof, it is frankly an experiment to see if it can be implemented and replicated. And, it’s only part of the package. We also have to implement other parts of the program, such as technical assistance to help this community and others build a viable conservation tourism economic base (around seeing turtles, whales and other wildlife), along the lines of the success and San Ignacio.

But, after having visited Lopez Mateo, and seeing the work and leaders of Pro-Peninsula and Groupo Tortugaro over the past decade (who are the real hero’s in this story), I have great confidence in the commitment, ethics, and value of local leaders who are making this policy happen. And if we can save 3-600 turtles every year for one time investment of $10k, it’s a bargain. We expend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the U.S. to protect a fraction of that number.


  1. #1 daenku32
    August 17, 2007

    I recently returned from Cancun where both the wife and I got to release some small recently hatched sea turtles back into the sea, and this was right there by the hotels. We named ours Bob and Horhey (George).

  2. #2 Johnny Wilson
    August 18, 2007

    This Lopez Mateos project may seem a meagre incentive to save turtles (and other marine organisms). But Sheril is right in that, if successful, this low-cost incentive may serve as a case study that could well be replicated elsewhere.
    In the southern – and central Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem approximately 34 000 seabirds, 4200 turtles and over 7 million sharks and allies are killed annually through incidental bycatch. (see and 31 000 of the 34 000 seabird mortalities can be attributed to Namibian longline fisheries. Though highly optimistic, I’m getting excited at the idea of reducing bycatch mortalities in just the Namibian section of the BCLME by say 10% though e.g. something like the Lopez Mateos incentive. That equates to 3000 seabirds – roughly the total annual number of Tristan Albatrosses (not even the rarest albatross) breeding GLOBALLY!!!

  3. #3 Linda
    August 19, 2007

    I find it both very interesting and encouraging to read what Sheril and Johnny have to say about these ecosystem conservation incentives. A sizable step in the right direction…

  4. #4 Wallace J. Nichols
    September 6, 2007

    Thanks for posting this Sheril.

    One can learn more about the decade of Grupo Tortuguero’s grassroots work with sfishers and sea turtles in Baja that has led to this point, at:

    The longlines in question are actually quite SHORT, as LONGlines go. A few hundred hooks per vessel. But still quite deadly to sea turtles.

    And we’d rather not refer to the program as a “buy out” rather as a gear exchange with an honorarium.

    Indeed, it’s a great case study. There are many “hotspots” where thoughfully applied effort can have some very cost effective results. Duke Univerisity’s PROJECT GLOBAL is shedding some light on some of these conservation opportunities:


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