Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Go on a Conservation Expedition: SEE Turtles

One trend that makes us feel a little better about the future is conservation tourism. Most of us don’t realize the impact of recreational activities on Earth and its animals, but conservation tourism encourages travel activities that help instead of harm.

At the Adventures in Travel Expo last week, we discovered a fantastic new travel choice for people who love the great outdoors – and the creatures we share it with.

SEE Turtles has been developed by the Ocean Conservancy to raise awareness about the threats imperiling sea turtles while enabling tourists to behold these incredible beings.

Nesting turtles are supersensitive, so disturbances discourage them from laying their eggs. Please take these easy tips to help protect them:

* Keep beaches clean of litter – sadly, turtles can confuse plastic for food and choke.

* When in their nesting sites, do keep quiet and wear dark clothes...and don’t use camera flashes, light fires, make loud noises or drive on the beach.

* Don’t feed the turtles and other wildlife; risks include making them sick and losing their natural caution that helps them stay alive.

* When boating, slow down in turtle territory and near sensitive habitat like coral reefs and sears beds.

* If you eat seafood, eat only humanely caught. Turtles are among sea animals that become bycatch and drown in nets due to fishing practices of those who care only for speed and profit.

* Keep a respectful distance from turtles. The best way to observe them is part of an eco-tour such as SEE Turtles.

Threats to sea turtles include entanglement in fishing gear, loss of nesting and feeding sites, poaching and pollution.

Interesting turtle facts:

* Sizes vary from Kemp’s ridley, weighting about 80 pounds to the leatherback, who can tip the scales at more than 1,000 pounds.

* Loggerhead turtles often nest in Japan and migrate to Baja California Sur to forage for food. Leatherbacks are found as far south as Chile and as far north as Alaska.

SEE Turtle and other eco-tourism options can be enjoyed in Costa Rica, where green turtles nest on its Caribbean coast. In the 1950’s, Tortuguero National Park on Costa Rica’s North Caribbean coast, became the world’s first sea turtle nesting beach conservation project. Baja California Sur is another critical habitat region for sea turtles.

One SEE Turtle package-deal expedition involves tracking and tagging Baja’s endangered black sea turtles. Tour guides include Cesareo “Charo” Castro. Born, raised and still dwelling in Lopez Mateos on Baja California’s Pacific coast, he hails from a fishing family and a culture that once valued eating sea turtles. Charo has made it his miss to protect sea turtles and help people learn about these fascinating animals.

See http://www.SEEturtles.org for info on sea turtles and turtle-focused tours offered with partners including EarthWatch Institute.

Photos courtesy of Neil Osborne