October 26, 2005

Mexico baby turtles thriving as poachers kept out

By Catherine Bremer

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - About 13 million endangered Olive
Ridley turtles have hatched on Mexico's Pacific beaches and
scuttled safely into the sea so far this year, protected from
poachers by armed guards deployed by the government,
environmentalists said on Tuesday.

While only 13,000 of those will live to adulthood and
breed, biologists say the numbers are on par with 2004 and show
they are winning the battle in Mexico, where men gulp down raw
turtle eggs with salt and lime juice as a supposed aphrodisiac.

"It's a good figure. We can't consider them out of danger
yet, but they are recovering," said Cuauhtemoc Penaflores at
the Mexican Turtle Center in the Pacific coast Oaxaca state.

"We're only halfway through the season so there will be a
lot more turtles hatching. But the important thing is the
action of human predators on the beaches has diminished," he

Mexico is home to half a dozen types of sea turtle. The
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural
Resources lists the Olive Ridley as endangered, or facing a
very high rate of extinction in the wild in the near future.

Hundreds of thousands of females come ashore each year to
lay their eggs on the beaches where they were born.

But after surviving natural predators, bad weather, fishing
nets and contamination, hundreds fall prey to poachers who cut
out their eggs for sale as an illegal delicacy.

The government stepped up protection for the turtles in
August by sending two Navy ships to Escobilla beach, Mexico's
top nesting ground, after poachers bludgeoned and chopped up
some 80 turtles to steal their eggs.

Guarding nests, and sometimes taking eggs away to safety,
has helped Olive Ridleys make a comeback. Last year 33 million
were born in Mexico.

Each newborn takes 10-15 years to reach adulthood, and
biologists say it will take years to stabilize the population.

"In the two main beaches we have had complete success, no
nests have been robbed," said Luis Fueyo, director of marine
resources at environmental protection agency Profepa.

"It's still happening at smaller beaches, where we are less
able to protect them, but it's less all the time. There will
always be a demand that feeds hunting but the trend is toward
local communities defending their beaches."

Recent anti-poaching posters featured scantily clad women
saying their men didn't need turtle eggs to be potent.

Biologists in Mexico are also working to boost numbers of
the much larger Hawksbill turtle and the huge Leatherback,
which grows to 8 feet and weighs nearly a ton.

"The task will be won once we see a firm recovery in the
six species. Right now we have the Olive Ridley growing, the
Black Sea Turtle and Loggerhead stable, and the Leatherback,
Hawksbill and Kemp's Ridley still in a critical state," Fueyo