tortuga rising A conservation success story
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NEIL EVER OSBORNE
aLTHOUGH GREEN SEA TURTLES have inhabited the Pa- cific coast of Mexico for millions of years, for the past few decades these ancient mariners (known locally as tortugas
prietas or “black turtles”) have struggled to survive a relentless onslaught of hunting. As recently as the early 1980s, there were still
some twenty-five thousand of their nests each year along the Mexican coast. But as demand grew for turtle meat and eggs in Mexico
and across the U.S. border, turtle hunting multiplied exponentially.
When the Mexican government outlawed the tra;cking of sea turtles in 1990, turtle hunters were labeled poachers and smugglers
overnight, but the practice continued. By the mid-1990s, poaching,
fishing nets, and habitat pollution and destruction had caused the
number of nesting females to drop to less than five hundred.
It was at this time that a doctoral student
named Wallace J. Nichols proposed studying the biology and conservation of sea turtles in
northwestern Mexico for his thesis, but was told that
cultural inertia was too great to overcome and it was too late to
even bother trying. Undeterred, Nichols and a colleague traveled
to Baja California to study the five species of sea turtle that congregate on both sides of the peninsula’s nineteen hundred miles
of coastline to feast on crab, jellyfish, sea sponges, and algae.
With the help of a fisherman and a Mexican biologist, Nichols attached a transmitter to a captured loggerhead’s shell. The
turtle, named Adelita after the fisherman’s daughter, swam seven
thousand miles from Baja California to nesting grounds in Japan,