Sunday, December 7, 2008

Proyecto Caguama

The Proyecto Caguama team, with Gobernador Narciso Agúndez Montaño’s help, measured, weighed, cleaned, tagged and recorded the information about a captured turtle and returned it to the wild.

Puerto Lopez Mateos is one of the hot spots where the critically endangered loggerhead sea turtle gathers in huge numbers to feast on pelagic red crabs. The turtles begin their lives in Japan and then embark on an incredible journey across the Pacific Ocean to Baja where they feed and mature. This journey may take as long as 30 years!
• When the animals are approaching sexual maturity, Pacific loggerheads migrate over 7,500 miles (12,000 km) between nesting beaches in Japan and feeding grounds off the coast of Baja, Mexico!
• During the 3 months or so that a female loggerhead breeds, she will travel natal beaches in Japan to mate and lay 35 lbs. (15.9 kg) of eggs or more, then swim back to her home foraging area, all without eating anything significant.
• From hatchling to adult, a loggerhead increases its weight more than 6,000 times! An adult weighs about 250 pounds.
• Although they are good swimmers, loggerheads have callus-like traction scales beneath their flippers which allow them to "walk" on the ocean floor.

Hoyt Peckham, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology and Director of the San Diego based ProPeninsula since 2003, has been studying the loggerhead turtles in southern Baja California, where they congregate to feed. His research addresses important questions about the migrations, habitat use, and life history of these remarkable animals, and the results are helping to shape future conservation efforts. The problems are many, but Peckham, along with Proyecto Caguama (Project Loggerhead) established by ProPenninsula, is working within the local fishing community to achieve awareness and help change the deep-rooted patterns of the area’s inhabitants. To local fishermen in Baja California, loggerhead turtles had always seemed to be abundant and thriving.

Early on, a local halibut fisherman in Baja impressed on Peckham the gravity of the problem.
“How can loggerhead turtles possibly be endangered?” the man asked. “I caught 30 in my nets this morning.”

Since that first encounter, Peckham and his research team of local student interns have interviewed dozens of fishermen, observed hundreds of fishing trips, and surveyed thousands of miles of beaches to calculate the enormity of the by-catch problem.
“Our findings are staggering,” he said. “We estimate that thousands of loggerheads are killed each year as incidental catch just along a very narrow bit of the Baja California Sur coast.”
Surveys of the nesting beaches in Japan have shown declines in nesting activity of 50- to 90-percent since 1990. Because it takes at least 30 years for a loggerhead turtle to reach reproductive maturity, there are far more juveniles in the population than adults.

Peckham is partnering directly with local fishermen to develop alternatives to current fishing practices and to spread the word about reducing sea turtle by-catch throughout Baja California fishing communities. Wallace J. Nichols, a biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, who pioneered sea turtle research and conservation in Baja, has been instrumental in these efforts. Working with Nichols through ProPeninsula, a bi-national nonprofit organization focused on the Baja California peninsula, Peckham also oversees the efforts of Proyecto Caguama.

Proyecto Caguama provides many outreach activities and materials which include workshops, local student internships, regional turtle festivals, school enrichment programs, community murals, films, and even comic books. Funding for the projects has come from an impressive list of sources. Peckham said the local fishermen are almost always receptive to the idea of protecting the turtles once they understand their important role in the turtles’ future.

Additional information about turtle conservation efforts in Baja California can be found at the following web sites.