Rene Pinal was inspired to help sea turtles when he first witnessed baby sea turtles being born on the beach near his ranch. Pinal's Rancho Punta San Cristobal estate is a three-and-a-half mile stretch of protected beaches and lands located on the Pacific Coast of Baja, Mexico. At the time in 1982, sea turtles were first listed as endangered and Mexico received money from the World Bank to study and remediate the sea turtle's decline, but resources were limited. Biologists worked on the shoreline, including Pinal's land, to determine what was needed to help the declining populations. When funds ran dry, Pinal took over the job of helping the sea turtles. In 1995, he founded the nonprofit Association for the Protection of the Environment and the Marine Turtle in Southern Baja (ASUPMATOMA), receiving the permits and support necessary to continue research.
Sea turtles have inhabited tropical and subtropical seas throughout the world for over 100 million years. There are eight sea turtle species worldwide, with seven living and breeding on the Pacific coast of Mexico. All eight species are listed as endangered. The turtles play key roles in marine and shoreline habitats. In the oceans, sea turtles are one of the very few creatures that eat sea grass, maintaining the grass' health, which then becomes a breeding site for many species of fish. Sea turtles also contribute to beach and sand dune vegetation. Nutrients from hatched turtle eggs allow vegetation to grow on the dunes, which helps prevent erosion.
Worldwide, sea turtle populations continue to decline. In Mexico, and some areas of South America, turtle meat and eggs are considered delicacies. As many as 35,000 turtles are killed each year by poachers in Mexico alone. Nets used in shrimp trawling and fishing also cause sea turtle deaths. The turtles become tangled in the nets and are unable to reach the surface to breathe.
Pinal says "Mexico's environmental protection ideas are 20 to 30 years behind the U.S. They don't have the consciousness." ASUPMATOMA has implemented educational programs targeting 6th and 7th grade children. The program educates the kids on the sea turtles, allowing them to handle baby sea turtles, name them and then...