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03/29/2012

Turtle hatchlings head for the sea

Tortuga4
Mexico has released more than 216 million turtle hatchlings into the wild over the past six years, according to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

Last year alone, more than 41 million hatchlings scurried down beaches along the Gulf, Caribbean and Pacific beaches to try their luck at avoiding ocean predators.

Tortuga1I did a double take when I read the figure at first _ and don’t claim to vouch for it. I do know that marine biologists have told me the survival rate for turtle hatchlings is quite low. All the hatchlings released last year were either olive ridley or kemp’s ridley tortoises, two of the six species that nest on Mexican beaches. 

Mexican conservation workers staff 28 turtle camps and a National Turtle Center in Mazunte, Oaxaca. Here’s the link in Spanish.

Mexico used to be considered a major culprit in culls of sea turtles. In the late 1970s, all turtles in the north of the Gulf of Mexico were on endangered lists, and by 1987 U.S. officials mandated the use of “turtle exclusion devices,” or TEDs, that kept turtles from being snared in shrimp nets.

By 1989, all foreign shrimpers planning to sell shrimp in U.S. markets were also mandated to use the TEDs. Mexican shrimpers were slow to adopt the devices, and as recently as 2010 U.S. inspectors found some shrimpers still were sidestepping their use, leading to a new ban on U.S. imports of wild shrimp from Mexico.

Tortuga2

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Texas Aggie

I can speak about one site on the Gulf where people from the biology department of the University in Tamaulipas go each year and follow each momma turtle as she lays her eggs in the sand, dig them up and bury them in a protected enclosure, and then when they hatch and develop a bit, the hatchlings are carried to the water so that they don't run a gauntlet of gulls that want to eat them. There really are a few thousand of the little suckers by the time the season is over.

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Tim

This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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