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…
Baja 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 email@example.com 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.