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Grupo Tortuguero’s 8th Annual Meeting Builds Hope for Endangered Sea Turtles

Click here to view the Grupo Tortuguero's Photo Gallery

By Wallace J. Nichols

In late January 2006, hundreds of sea turtle protectors gathered in Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico, to celebrate the 8th Annual Meeting of the Grupo Tortuguero. The yearly gathering has grown from its founding group of 45 fishers, coastal residents, scientists, educators and conservationists to the current international network linking members of more than 40 coastal communities, dozens of non-profit organizations and numerous government agencies, NGOs and research institutes. All share the same goal: the aid in the recovery of eastern Pacific sea turtle populations.

At the annual meeting members presented results of their research and monitoring projects, communication and outreach programs, and attended hands-on training workshops. Most importantly, conservation strategies were debated and developed, and critical personal relationships were formed and renewed.

At the core of the meeting is a simple conservation model called the “conservation mosaic.” The three interrelated components are: 1) building a diverse network, 2) acquiring the needed knowledge and solutions, and 3) sharing and communicating it all widely and creatively. To this end, the network continues to grow and include new members such as public health professionals, environmental foundations and indigenous groups. Research is multidisciplinary, collaborative and participatory. Inquiry is expanding into local and traditional knowledge as well as new fields of the sciences and social sciences. The tools used to communicate and share include scientific publications, television and radio, magazines and newspapers, comic books, puppet shows, the internet, murals, music, giant dancing turtles and even appeals to the Vatican, soccer stars and supermodels for help.

Every year a community is chosen to receive the Don Manuel Orantes Conservation Award, named after one of the pioneers of sea turtle conservation on the peninsula, recognizing individuals and communities for their outstanding conservation work. At the 2006 meeting, the annual Orantes Award was given to the community of Loreto for their work to protect sea turtles. Loreto has hosted the meeting over the years, and without their tremendous efforts, the annual meeting would not be what it is today - the region’s premiere grassroots conservation meeting. Additionally, Loreto was the location of one of the first sea turtle research projects on the peninsula. Fernando Arcas and Maria Elena Murillo of Grupo Ecologista Antares accepted the award on behalf of the community. All past recipients of the prize were on hand to present the beautifully carved glass award, generously donated each year by artist Heather Mathews.

This year’s meeting also highlighted the importance of indigenous culture and knowledge in conservation, particularly sea turtle conservation. Indigenous youth and elders representing Ocean Revolution’s Native Oceans Council described the ancient relationships with the oceans, the land and sea turtles, and how changes in the ocean have resulted in losses to their cultures. Coire, Seri, Navajo, Pascua Yaqui and Shinnecock representatives were in attendance. During the meeting, the group traveled inland to view and interpret nearby cave paintings. Among the paintings is a depiction of mating leatherback turtles (see photo), an animal of special spiritual and cultural importance to the Seri.

One of the most powerful moments of the meeting was the spontaneous sharing of traditional songs and dance from the Hawaiian Islands and Seri cultures, including an exchange of a traditional Seri sea grass basket and a Koa wood bowl.

At the banquet, Rodrigo Rangel passed the torch as the coordinator of Grupo Tortuguero to Chuy Lucero. Rodrigo’s two years of hard work have grown the group in many ways. He will immediately begin coordinating a community-based shark conservation project with IEMANYA, transferring his knowledge, skills and contacts to another important marine conservation issue. Lucero brings vast experience as a commercial fisherman, several years working nights on sea turtle nesting beaches, a big smile and a positive attitude, and the respect of everyone who knows him to this important position.

This year, more than ever before, the Grupo Tortuguero’s conservation mosaic model itself is being shared. It has been adopted by groups such as those working on sea turtle conservation in Indonesia and shark conservation in the eastern Pacific. This is one of several signs of success. However, the clearest sign that the work of the Grupo Tortuguero is bearing fruit comes from the sea turtles themselves. Monitoring data suggest that we are seeing the beginning of a recovery in both east Pacific green turtles and loggerhead turtles. Olive Ridley nesting continues to be on the rise as well. It’s still far too early to ease up on conservation efforts, as hawksbill and leatherback turtle populations remain alarmingly low, but some of the trends give us hope. And hope, good news and encouragement are surely welcome!

The 2007 Grupo Tortuguero meeting will be held again in Loreto the 26-28th of January. Big plans are already being made for the 10th anniversary meeting in 2008. Please visit www.grupotortuguero.org for more information. See you there!

 



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