Published on Sunday, January 25, 2004 by the Agence France Presse
Mexicans Outraged by Sea Turtle Massacre
MEXICO CITY - The massacre has Mexican authorities so worried that they have put out this warning to citizens: "Do not order turtle meat in restaurants, do not eat their eggs and do not buy boots or belts made out of their skin."
Mexico's Environment Ministry has been repeating the message all this month to curb the killing of hundreds of sea turtles who lay their eggs along Pacific Coast beaches.
Mexican authorities estimate more than 500 turtles were shot to death in the first few days of this year in Guerrero state, 400 miles (700 km) from the capital. Their carcasses were found January 7 scattered along a four-mile stretch of beach.
Television images of the remains outraged Mexicans.
The environment ministry says that, with the help of the military and police, it is protecting 27 sites inhabited by 80 percent of the country's sea turtle population.
There are an estimated 10,000 sea turtles in Mexican waters, and only one in 1,000 hatched turtles survive to adulthood.
"The worst predator is man, and although our conservation efforts have not been at the level we want, the species have remained stable," said Francisco Gines, deputy Minister of Environmental Protection.
"But we cannot do anything against illegal trafficking on our own. We need the population's help to completely stop the consumption of eggs and meat."
Although poor Mexicans have used the turtles as a food source, some now believe organized crime has become involved in the lucrative trafficking in turtle products, and armed men on horseback have been seen canvassing beaches.
Sea turtles can be worth up to 800 dollars a carcass before processing, according to an environmentalist trying to protect the turtles and their nests. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of turtle meat can fetch 50 dollars, and a single lute turtle can weigh 330 pounds, according to the newspaper Reforma.
By comparison, 40 percent of Mexican families live on less than 500 dollars a year.
One turtle can lay 100 ping pong ball-sized eggs, sold in coastal villages for a dollar and a half apiece.
Sensing danger, some turtles escape before laying their eggs, but poachers hunt them down and cut out the eggs.
Turtle skin is used to make wallets, bracelets and combs. Turtle skin boots sell in Leon for 80 dollars a pair.
Diana Ponce, a government prosecutor who handles crimes against the environment, said there are only about 300 environmental inspectors to cover 7,456 miles of coastline.
But officials insisted turtle massacres would not be tolerated.
"We will act with the full force of the law against the predators who attack our environment," said Jose Luis Luege, federal prosecutor for environmental protection. "I want this to be very clear: we will not be soft on the defense of our ecological heritage."
Copyright 2004 AFP