Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Saving Endangered Sea Turtles



The beaches of La Pesca, Tepehuajes and Rancho Nuevo in northeastern Mexico are the sole nesting ground of the world's most endangered sea turtle, the Kemp's Ridley. For millions of years, female Kemp's Ridleys have returned here to lay their eggs. However, only one of every thousand hatchlings survives to adulthood according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Today, these creatures are enjoying a resurgence, thanks to a unique joint effort by the U.S., Mexico, biologists and an unexpected partner, the shrimping industry. No longer are the turtles and eggs harvested as a food source. Workers from the Kemp's Ridley Recovery Project are patrolling the beaches for nesting females. They dig up their eggs and transport them to nearby corrals for safekeeping until they hatch.

The project has already surpassed expectations, seeing more than 10,000 nests. With an average of 100 eggs per nest, that means about one million hatchlings for the year. This success could serve as a model for endangered species programs around the world.

"We're starting to see the population increase instead of going down or being flat," said Dr. Patrick Burchfield, who coordinates the U.S. portion of the project for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "But it's only because we have state government, federal government, local government, the fishing industry from two countries - all of these partners that we've been able to survive the crises that inevitably happen in most conservation programs."

The partnership is also trying to help Mexican communities affected by the end of turtle harvesting. The American shrimping industry helped build a ceramics workshop and community center in Tepehuajes, where people create hand-crafted, turtle-related pottery. Money earned there helps offset income lost when turtle harvesting ended.

"We make our living out of the shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico and if things get too out of whack, we suffer for it," said Les Hodgson, a shrimp processor from Brownsville, Texas. "And if we can bring back the turtle, we would be more than happy to give it everything we've got to be able to do that."

Securing funding for the coming years will be critical to the success of the project.

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On the Net:
Wild American Shrimp site:
http://www.wildamericanshrimp.com
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