Tourism as a game changer for the conservation of sea turtles

by Katia Silva, Marine Biologist and Guide at Cabo Trek

Sea turtles are living fossils that have navigated the world’s oceans from the time of dinosaurs. These ancient marine reptiles have long fascinated people and figured prominently in folklore of many cultures. There is a small indigenous community called Comcáac in Mexico along the Gulf of California . Their relation to the sea turtles is particularly central to their culture. They believe there was a god who ordered the animals to dive for some 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 disease, pollution, climate change and habitat loss. 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 -1970s when more than 50% of the world’s sea turtle catch 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 BCS and the most prevalent reasons for illegal poaching were direct economic benefits, lack of law enforcement and ease of escape from or bribery of authorities, and strong family tradition. Reduce illegal poaching it is necessary to better enforce existing environmental laws, reduce social acceptance of sea turtle hunting throughout the region, educate fishers on the ecological importance of sea turtles, and show them direct economic benefits from non-consumptive use of sea turtles, such as ecotourism. The long-term conservation of species is dependent on local political support as well as wider community support.

The sustainable tourism can generate income and provide employment and at the same time support the conservation efforts. The experience imparted from viewing is educational and this can assist in preserving sea turtles for future generations. Turtle hatchling releases can be used to increase public awareness of the threats facing sea turtles and their habitats. It can provide strong economic incentives for wildlife conservation.

The turtle hacthling season in Los Cabos is an excellent alternative and until December it is possible to live this experience that for many tourists is the highlight of the trip.

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