Grupo Tortuguero’s 8th Annual Meeting Builds
Hope for Endangered Sea Turtles
Click here to view the Grupo Tortuguero's Photo
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
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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