August 12, 2010

"Sea turtles, mate."

Sea Turtle
Ragetti: Is that... can't be.
Pintel: How?
Captain Teague: Sea turtles, mate.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Sea turtles can be found in all of the world's oceans, minus the really cold ones up by the poles. They spend their lives in the sea, coming to the surface to breath, before dodging back underwater to feed. Here they can live for up to 80 years. The largest of the five species of sea turtle can grow up to eight feet (2.5m) long, weighing in at 1,300lbs (93 stone; or 590kg). They are truly one of the great, gentle giants of the sea.

Only the mature females ever venture onto land and then only to lay their eggs on the beaches. Beaches in Mexico are some of the dwindling number where nesting occurs, as anyone who reads A Canuck in Cancun knows:

A gigantic mama turtle was RIGHT THERE laying her eggs!! Super awe, jaw on the sandy floor, ga ga girls, we oohed and aaahed and watched her do her thing ... Turtle patrol came along and took her measurements and clamped a tracking device on her flipper. Her shell was 106 cms by 96 cms, big girl! We got hit by some flying sand when she started to try to get out of her hole, her powerful flippers making loud THWACK sounds as she dug her way out. We left her in peace to make her way back to sea.
A Canuck in Cancun: Where the Boys Aren't: Girls' Beach Getaway

And if you don't read 'A Canuck in Cancun', then why not? It's a brilliant blog!

When these eggs hatch, there is a sudden surge of tiny babies rushing towards the ocean. Seagulls and other predators lunge in and only a fraction ever make it. Then there is the arduous task of growing up, amidst the sharks and others who like to see sea turtle on the menu.

Sea turtles have been around for 130 million years; yet they have now been hunted to the brink of extinction by human beings. Sadly, a large proportion of this happens in Mexico, where poachers illegally catch and sell them into the international market, or eat them at home. Tourist are warned to boycott and report any restaurant with sea turtle on offer. Moreover, please don't buy any tortoiseshell products.

Even more recently, BP came under sharp criticism for burning sea turtles alive, by trapping them into controlled 'burn zones', in a bid to remove oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. The Nature Institute in New Orleans estimated that at least 425 sea turtles had perished that way, with many more being picked up by conservationists. The survivors had to be cleaned up, with toothbrushes used to scrub the oil from their shells.

Sea TurtleSea Turtles are globally protected under the regulations of both the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Mexico is amongst those countries who have added extra laws to strengthen international law. It is illegal to poach, hunt, catch or eat sea turtles in Mexico. It is also illegal to use shrimp nets that don't allow sea turtles to escape. By-catch (when something other than what you were fishing for ends up caught) was a major threat to the sea turtles before that law came in. Traditional nesting beaches, in Mexico, are protected under law. They are often incorporated into national parks in order to ensure this protection.

In addition, there have been many other campaigns in the country, aiming to combat some of the cultural, religious or superstitious reasoning behind the consumption of sea turtles. In this very Catholic of countries, sea turtles are often eaten during Lent. This is such a problem that activists wrote to the Pope hoping that he would rule that sea turtles are meat, not fish, and therefore prohibited during that period. He hasn't done so yet.

Another pervasive (but utterly incorrect) belief was that sea turtle eggs boosted male potency. Playboy pin-up and singer Dorismar was enlisted to help combat that one.Dorismar For the non-Spanish speakers, that legend reads, "My man doesn't need turtle eggs."

Dorismar also made an appearance on the extremely popular TV show, Sábado Gigante. She used her charms to convince Spanish speaking men everywhere that they really didn't need to eat sea turtle eggs. Wearing nothing but revealing pyjamas, she explained carefully that it's a myth that they help male virility.

The TV show broadcasts to an audience of over 100 million people, spread across 42 countries. Dorismar's slot on it was part of Sábado Gigante's campaign tour of Latin America, ending in Mexico City. During which they spread the 'Don't Eat Sea Turtles' word even further. Live music and personal appearances by Dorismar helped the message to sink in.

May to October is sea turtle breeding season, so it is possible that any visitors to Mexico might encounter their nests. If you see a mound of sand with a stick in it, then leave it well alone. It is being monitored by one of the many volunteer or state sea turtle conservation organizations. If you happen to spot a giant turtle leaving the ocean, with huge tyre track grooves in the sand, then report it immediately to the beach patrols. They can then alert the relevant people to come and protect the nest.

Then sit back, at a distance, and revel in the fact that you have witnessed one of nature's more wondrous moments. Because, if the poachers win, no future generation will be able to see it at all.

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