Marine Turtles

Tortuga golfinaMarine turtles are endanger of extinction in México as they are all over the world. ProFaunaBaja is coordinating research studies on nest distribution and beach-dune morphology with ASUPMATOMA, a local marine turtle conservation organization.

asupmatoma-logo

ASUPMATOMA monitors 21 kilometers of nesting beach along the Pacific Ocean. The main nesting species is the Olive Ridley (Lepidochyles olivacea).  The monitoring area is characterized by dune-backed beaches along the Pacific coast of the Cape Region of Baja California Sur.   Coastal dunes are a integral part to beach nourishment as they provide a sand reservoir for the beach after loss of sand from high tide events, hurricanes, and sea level rise.  Sea turtle nests are directly threatened by human poaching, introduced predators such as dogs, and recreational ATV activity.  Not only to turtles depend on the beach for nesting habitat, but the driving force for the economy in México is coastal tourism.  Development in coastal dunes provokes erosion of the beach and loss of habitat as well as beach access for tourists.

Three years ago, the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, CONANP) declared that the future conservation of coastal wetlands and dunes is a priority for México.  In Baja California Sur, coastal dune protection is an immediate conservation strategy since coastal development is increasing by 7.5 % annually.  Already, along the Pacific Coast of Baja California Sur, the loss of habitat to golf courses and large residential development is evident.  Marine turtles nest in sandy beaches backed by coastal dunes.  These dunes are vital factors  for females to chose the appropriate location for depositing eggs.  The dunes also provide vital nutrients and minerals for egg development and a sand reservoir to replenish the beach after natural storm erosion. Development on coastal dunes not only destroys coastal dune biodiversity, endemic flora and fauna, but also removes important nesting habitat for endangered species such as marine turtles.

Marine turtles are threatened by direct poaching and incidental capture in fishing and shrimp nets in most areas as well as habitat loss of coastal dunes and beaches to tourism development.  Patrolling provides a presence to deter poachers and nest relocation can help protect the nesting population, however has consequences because of the human manipulation of eggs and fluctuating abiotic factors such as temperature and humidity.  Our research helps to make scientific-based recommendations to promote more in-situ nest monitoring and to create a more sustainable monitoring protocol.

THREATS: 

Poacher with cooking materials, bag of eggs, and turtle shell captured thanks to patrolling biologists.

Poacher with cooking materials, bag of eggs, and turtle shell captured thanks to patrolling biologists.

 

Nesting habitat loss due to unregulated tourism development in coastal dunes

Nesting habitat loss due to unregulated tourism development in coastal dunes

RESEARCH

ProFaunaBaja is studying the effects of coastal development on marine turtle nesting habitat.  Students from University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) and biologists from ASUPMATOMA are helping to collect GPS points of nests before relocation.  By evaluating this nest distribution on a map in correlation with poaching activity and natural seasonal erosion events, we can effectively identify areas for in-situ nest monitoring, where the nests are allowed to natural develop where the female intended.  In this method, the nests are discretely marked with a numbered stake and predator deterrent screening is camouflaged to deter feral dog, coyote, and other mammal predators from taking the nest.  

Natural erosion from Tropical Storm IVO, which removed over 60 meters of beach.

Natural erosion from Tropical Storm IVO, which removed over 60 meters of beach.

By evaluating nest density, we can effectively identify areas of high priority conservation and make scientific-based recommendations for set-back distances for tourism development construction and identify natural buffers to help protect the coast and inland infrastructure from the effects of climate change resulting from more frequent and stronger storms, which in turn produce increased erosion rate from storm surge and above average tides.

This data will be supplied to CONANP and the National Commission for Biodiversity (Commision Nacional de Argicola y Biodiversidad, CONABIO).  The data is applied to create scientific-based recommendations for sustainable coastal development.  We are also proposing to dedicate the coastal dunes as An Area for the Protection of Flora and Fauna by the federal government.  

EDUCATION

ProFaunaBaja encourages school groups, high school and university to participate in the research.  In 2011, we proposed a project to Ecology Project International, the leading environmental education organization in Baja California.  Between 2012 – 2013, EPI instructors worked with ProFaunaBaja and ASUPMATOMA to educate over 200 students at the Playa San Cristobal Camp.

TOSEA_LOGO.2013

In 2013, Todos Santos Eco Adventures began offering voluntourism activities for tourist at Playa San Cristobal.   Students and voluntourists join biologists on nightly patrols for nests and females, participate in data collection and nest relocation when necessary, and help clean nests after the hatch.

EPI students engaged in a weekend workshop on marine turtle conservation

EPI students engaged in a weekend workshop on marine turtle conservation

Voluntourists with TOSEA observing a female lay eggs

Voluntourists with TOSEA observing a female lay eggs in the sand during night patrol.

CONSERVATION

Volunteer: You can do your part by volunteering for in-situ nest monitoring projects in Elias Calles, Rancho Nuevo, and Migriño beaches.  If you live far away, you can visit us in August- October for overnight patrols with TOSEA.  If you are interested in volunteering for more than a week at camp, please contact us to find out more information.  

Rise Above Plastics: However, the easiest things everyone can do is choose recyclable materials over plastic.  Regardless of the plastic recycling number on the bottom, disposable plastics are not readily recyclable and cost precious oil reserves to recycle them and most small pieces end up in the ocean anyway and harm and kill birds, fish, turtles, and dolphins.  cloth bags, stainless steel water bottle, tupperware for leftovers when dining out, choose cans and glass over plastic containers.  

Seafood Dinner: Only buy certified sustainable caught seafood that is traceable and scientifically monitored.  Annually, hundreds of thousands of turtles are needlessly caught in nets used to catch shrimp and gillnets or longline fishing methods  used to catch predatory fish such as tuna, marlin, and swordfish.  Most restaurants do not have a clue where their seafood originates, how it was caught, or the level of dolphin and turtle by-catch.  You have to be a responsible consumer!   

Adopt a Nest: Every year, ProFaunaBaja coordinates nest adoptions to promote funding for research, patrols, and educational programs for local Mexican kids.  We have over 1000 nests up for adoption annually.  Please send us an email with your name and ho many nests you would like to adopt and we will send you the secure PayPal link for your tax-free donation.  In return, we will send you the coordinates of your nest to look up on Google Earth and at the end of the season, we will send you the number of eggs that hatched from the nest and a photo of a hatchling!

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