We just got back from “Playa de Los Muertos” — a beautiful stretch of Pacific Ocean beach that is jarringly littered with dead marine life — in the Baja region of Mexico. The carcasses of loggerhead turtles that drown when tangled in local fishermen’s nets a few miles offshore wash up almost daily.
We spoke with the local lighthouse keeper, Victor de la Toba, and learned about his efforts to track turtle mortality and encourage shifts in fishing practices.
Our visit to the beach and nearby Magdalena Bay made it particularly distressing to read a news release this morning from Conservation International about a new research paper confirming that the area we’re focusing on in our film is a hot spot for “bycatch” mortality of sea turtles.
Here’s an excerpt:
“The most comprehensive global evaluation of fisheries bycatch impacts on large marine species, published this month in the journal Ecosphere, revealed that sea turtle populations in the East Pacific, North Atlantic, Southwest Atlantic, and Mediterranean face higher bycatch and mortality rates. The study also highlighted information gaps that are blocking further assessments of impacts, and found that bycatch rates in small-scale fisheries in nearshore areas rival those of large-scale fisheries in the open ocean. Currently, six out of the seven species of sea turtles are endangered globally, and without effective measures to reduce bycatch, many sea turtle populations around the world could face local extinction.
“We lose hundreds or thousands of turtles each year in populations that are already at risk,” said Dr. Bryan Wallace, of Oceanic Society and Duke University. “Many sea turtle populations around the world could face local extinction if we don’t reduce bycatch.”
…Sea turtles were also found to face high bycatch threats from small-scale, near-shore fisheries, especially in areas where turtles concentrate to feed and nest. “Bycatch in small-scale fisheries is rarely monitored or regulated, but can have disproportionately large impacts on turtles and other bycatch species,” Wallace added. “But these fisheries are also disproportionately important socioeconomically for coastal communities worldwide, so bycatch reduction has to be balanced with the livelihoods of fishermen.”
In fact, the highest bycatch rates in the world have been documented in small-scale fishing gear off Baja California, Mexico. Despite numbering only 100 boats, this small fishing fleet accidentally catches and kills as many loggerhead turtles each year as all other fisheries in the North Pacific combined. Just last year, more than 2,000 turtles of this endangered population were killed—a 600-percent increase over previous mortality estimates.”
To learn more, check out the full study, or go to Conservation International’s website. You can also check out this remarkable article, published late last year from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting offered a chilling look at the resistance of local fishing cooperatives to ideas that might cut the death toll.
And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook and talk to us on Twitter via @PaceBaja.