EAST PACIFIC reen turtle (Chelonia mydas) is one of five sea turtles that frequent the warm coastal lagoons of Mexico's Baja California. Biologist Wallace J. Nichols hoists a 55-pound green that will be tagged and released for further study. Image:
PUERTO SAN CARLOS, MEXICO-- Here along the Pacific coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula, a celebration--Easter, a birthday, the arrival of important guests--calls for a meal of caguama, or turtle. Locals also covet the animal's medicinal properties. The best-tasting, according to most, is the East Pacific green turtle (Chelonia mydas). But the green, one of five marine turtles in Pacific Mexico, is theoretically off limits. Killing them has been strictly prohibited by the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1978 and by Mexican law since 1990.
Not relying solely on the law, every year scientists, volunteers and even army units camp out along green turtle nesting beaches in southern Mexico to block poachers and predators from snatching the eggs needed to produce new generations of the animals. Even so, the number of mature females returning to the green's primary nesting beach has plummeted from 1,280 in 1990 to 145 in 2000. Why are the turtles missing?
This article was originally published with the title The Trouble with Turtles.