Tourism and Turtles: A Game Changer for Their Conservation
By Kátia Silva, guide and Marine Biologist at CaboTrek.com
Sea turtles are living fossils that have navigated the world’s oceans from the time of the dinosaurs. These ancient marine reptiles have long fascinated people and are prominent in the folklore of many cultures. In the small Mexican indigenous community of Comcáac, which is situated along the Gulf of California, the relation to sea turtles is particularly central to their culture. They believe there was a God who ordered animals to dive for sand to use to construct the world. Many of the animals tried until they could no more, and then there was the turtle. When it was his turn to find the sand, he dove down and buried himself. He surfaced with the sand, and with that sand the world was created.
Unfortunately, all species of sea turtles are threatened with extinction due to anthropogenic threats such as overfishing, bycatch, hunting, infectious diseases, pollution, climate change and loss of their habitat. In Mexico, the exploitation of sea turtles has been a traditional activity among coastal communities for centuries. The rising market demand led to an increase in sea turtle exploitation which reached its peak between the 1950s and 1970s, when more than 50% of the world’s sea turtle catching occurred in Mexico.
As a result, all sea turtle populations in Mexico collapsed, forcing the Mexican government to declare a total ban on sea turtle fisheries and trade of derived products in 1990. Despite the ban, sea turtles and their eggs are still consumed in illegal acts.
Recent studies demonstrate that mortality rates due to illegal hunting remain very high in Baja California Sur, and the most prevalent reasons for illegal poaching were direct economic benefits, lack of law enforcement, and strong family traditions. Reducing illegal poaching is necessary to better enforce existing environmental laws, reduce social acceptance of sea turtle hunting throughout the region, educate fishermen on the ecological importance of sea turtles, and show them the direct economic benefits of non-consumptive use of sea turtles, such as ecotourism.
Sustainable tourism can generate income and provide employment, and at the same time support the conservation efforts. The turtle hatchling season in Los Cabos runs from June through December and attending a turtle release is an experience that will most likely be the highlight of your trip.