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Fisherman in Baja California Stop Sea Turtle Slaughter

BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO, 13 February 2001. Along the coast of the Californias, tens of thousands of endangered sea turtles are captured for the black market each year„and Baja's fishermen want it to stop. Recently, more than 120 fishermen, researchers, students, and resident of over eight fishing communities in Baja joined for the third annual meeting of the Sea Turtle Conservation Network of the Californias in Loreto, Mexico. The goal of the group is to combat the massive illegal slaughter of these ancient navigators.

According to Wallace J. Nichols Ph.D., Director of Wildcoast and author of the new book, Chelonia: Return of the Sea Turtle., "Few sea turtles survive their stay in Baja. They end up in soup or as a turtle barbeque," he says. Sea turtles swim to the Baja California peninsula from nesting beaches in southern Mexico and Hawaii to feed on eelgrass and the red crabs that swarm Baja's Pacific coast every spring.

All five species of sea turtles found in the waters of Baja California„hawksbill, green, leatherback, loggerhead and olive ridley„are either threatened or endangered.

"A young turtle must spend as long as 20 years feeding and growing along our coast before it reaches maturity," says Nichols.However, due to the desire of fishing communities to stop the poachers who rob them of valuable lobster and abalone and illegally hunt sea turtles, a strong grassroots network of turtle-protectors has emerged. At the sea turtle meeting in Loreto, fishermen from more than a dozen coastal communities in Baja developed proposals to halt the slaughter of sea turtles by poachers who sell the meat throughout northern Baja California, California and Arizona.

Last April, Isidro Arce, a fisherman from Punta Abreojos, a community north of San Ignacio Lagoon, helped to arrest and detain Mexico's most notorious sea turtle poacher, "Gordo" Fischer, who was caught with a pickup filled with sea turtles.

Rodrigo Rangel, a fisherman from Magdalena Bay who has worked to save sea turtles over the past two years called on local fishermen to help create a 25,000-acre sea turtle sanctuary, the first of its kind. "Without this protection, the world won't know these animals," he said.

Other fishermen from Mexico and Hawaii discussed the traditional role of sea turtles in their culture and the need to work hard to ensure that these animals don't disappear from our oceans. Strategies include new sea turtle sanctuaries, increased enforcement, and a region-wide public awareness campaign. But this is not an easy task. The tradition of eating turtle is deeply embedded in the region's culture, especially during Semana Santa„or Easter Week„when sea turtle is in highest demand.

Fisherman from Baja called on their communities, neighbors, friends, and politicians to reduce the number of turtles eaten this Holy Week and to work together to recover Pacific sea turtle populations.

"It's our responsibility to protect these animals," says Wildcoast's Adan Hernandez, who grew up eating sea turtle as a child in Magdalena Bay and is now leading efforts there to protect these animals."If we don't do it, who will? " asked Hernandez.The mission of Wildcoast is to preserve the coastal wildlands and endangered marine species of the Californias. Founded on January 1, 2000 by Wallace J. Nichols and Serge Dedina, Wildcoast has moved quickly to preserve some of the world's most endangered marine animals and marine hot spots in California and Baja California with a coalition of local fishermen, ranchers and conservation organizations.



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