Elizabeth’s Landing is Truckin’ to the Yucatan!

Six copies of Elizabeth’s Landing rolled out of our post office last week headed to the city of Progreso in the State of Yucatan, Mexico. Cultural and educational exchange–I can’t think of a better way to start 2014.

Package to Kitty 60650

Elizabeth’s Landing boxed and ready (don’t worry, it went with the full address).

My husband supports a low-cost and extremely well-run program called the Progreso Apoyo Program (PAP). Each year (based on donation levels) it provides school-required supplies and uniforms to over 90 of the city’s poor, yet high-achieving students (grades 7-12). A separate grant program, Career Advancement Program of Progresso (CAPP) moves those who qualify on to and through college. Together, and student by student, these projects help weaken the cycle of poverty in Progreso.

Program director, Kitty Morgan, was delighted when we offered to donate the books. Kids begin learning English in 7th grade, she said, so the majority of the books will go to city schools and libraries. I was also happy for a chance to learn more about sea turtles living and nesting along the Yucatan.

250px-Progreso,_Yucatan

Progresso, a major port with the longest pier in the world–4 miles.

Mexico’s Caribbean beaches are prime nesting habitat to most of the world’s eight sea turtle species, including the Kemp’s ridleys featured in Elizabeth’s Landing. While ridleys rarely nest along the Yucatan Peninsula, its beaches are important for hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles.

Protecting sea turtles and nesting sites in the Yucatan is big, particularly in the State of Quintana Roo along the “Riveria Maya” (Cancun to Tulum). Large tracts of beaches and inland wild areas are national parks, both in Quanta Roo and the State of Yucatan. Some are remote and not easily accessible. Others along the Riviera Maya face damaging impacts from exploding tourism. 

Thanks to the work of organizations like Flora, Fauna, and Culture of MexicoCEA (Centro Ecologico Akumal)and SEE Turtleslocal groups educate kids, adults, businesses, and tourists about sea turtles and their environments. Every December Flora, Fauna, and Culture of Mexico and The Travel Foundation present the “Amigos de la Tortuga” awards to Flora, Fauna, and Culture of Mexico Amigos de La Tortuga Awardhotels that incorporate and champion turtle-friendly behaviors and programs within their businesses. 

Successes Face Difficult Future

Despite these ongoing efforts, high tourism areas face serious problems not just for the turtles, but residents, too. A summit sponsored by CEA reports that 20 years of national and international study within the Riviera Maya area called Akumal (“place of the turtle” in Mayan), shows it at a “critical moment.” Lack of infrastructure in the face of increasing/uncontrolled tourism* is seriously degrading natural and marine ecosystems. Since 2008 “50% of the coral and 40% of the seagrass have died, and fish populations have declined by 60%.” Akumal’s community and economy “depend on the delicate balance and functionality of this ecosystem. *(tourism has grown significantly in the State of Quintana Roo in the last ten years. In 2005 there were 61,335 hotel rooms. In 2012 there were 85,141. New housing and business markets also boomed, all using resources and producing waste).

Different state, different priorities

The State of the Yucatan and beaches in the city of Progreso have a history of nesting sea turtles, too. Tourism is part of everyday life here, but the situation is very different. 

“When I first visited here in 1999,” Kitty says, “high school students patrolled the beaches, marking turtle nests and handing out literature to people, living right on the beach, about what do do (and not do) if they found a nest. I was thrilled that turtles were nesting here — right in my own back yard! But no more as there are now street lights along the beach which confuse and deter the turtles (ME: beach furniture and sea walls are barriers and may not allow turtles to crawl to safe nesting spots above the high tide line, or hatchlings to reach the water).

Progreso beachfront. Wikimedia Create Commons

Progreso beachfront. Wikimedia Create Commons

The few stoic creatures who do manage to nest only provide a nice meal for the 3,000+/- feral dogs in the area. Progreso’s local government cannot deal with its street dog problem. There is no dog catcher, no pound, no shelter; the dogs simply breed and suffer by the hundreds.”

Twelve years ago, Kitty helped found the only “duly registered” humane society in Progreso in hopes of educating people about the problem. This March, thanks primarily to donations from ex-pats living in Progreso, they will open a small clinic. 

The other good news is, Kitty’s Apoyo Program sponsored a young woman who is now studying aquaculture. She will go on to college, maybe become another advocate for the region’s sea turtles. She’s definitely getting a copy of the book.

When I began writing Elizabeth’s Landing almost seven years ago I didn’t know whether it would see the light of day, ever be read by anyone but me, family, and a few close friends. To my great surprise, like the writing process itself, the book has become a bridge into foreign and exciting territory.

Kitty Morgan’s PAP and CAPP programs:

…are always looking for new partner donors to sponsor the children. Every cent goes to filling their school needs (books, pencils, paper, uniforms, etc.). We are constantly amazed how far she spreads the money. She does all the shopping, absorbs all administration costs, and provides each donor with basic information about his/her sponsored child. Every year my husband receives a photo and a thank you letter (translated by Kitty, if necessary) from his student, thanking him for his support and relating school progress, interests, and future plans. Kitty sends a detailed expense report on each child.

If you are interested in making a simple donation or becoming a sponsor in either education program, e-mail Kitty at kbmorgan_99@yahoo.com. Be sure to put PAP or CAPP as the “Subject.” She will respond with more specific information on the program(s).

If you would like to support the animal clinic, mail checks or money orders (US or Canadian), payable to Protección de Perros y Gatos a.c.  Apartado Postal No. 30, Progreso 97320 Yucatán, México. Any amount is appreciated, but donations of $100 US (or equivalent) puts your name, or that of a beloved pet, on a prominently displayed plaque in the clinic’s waiting room. Help a dog–save a turtle?

Traveling to the Yucatan?

Consider supporting certified eco-friendly hotels, restaurants, and tours. There are also a number of fine “volunteer tours” where you can work directly with sea turtle conservation programs.

Green sea turtle feeding

Green sea turtle feeding.
Creative Commons-Wiki

If you encounter sea turtles while swimming, enjoy them, but keep your distance. Conservation biologists note increasingly green sea turtles avoid traditional underwater grass feeding grounds where there are too many people or people too close.

Info and links to the Riviera Maya sea turtle conservation groups:

Flora, Fauna, and Culture’s, Sea Turtle Conservation Riviera Maya Tulum Program (Facebook) “…one of the oldest and largest in Mexico. It protects nesting turtles, their nests and hatchlings in 13 of the most important nesting beaches of this coast (Punta Venado, Paamul, Aventuras-DIF Chemuyil Xcacel-Xcacelit or, Xel-Ha, Punta Cadena, Tankah, Kanzul, Cahpechén, Lilies Balandrín, Yu-yum and San Juan) and many beaches located in protected areas, such as the Sea Turtle Sanctuary Xcacel-Xcacelito Park National Tulum and Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an. This means protection and monitoring of 38.5 km. beaches, in an area of over 120 km., and our base camp on the Xcacel. We annually protect an average of 6,500 nests and free an average of 500,000 baby sea turtles.”

CEA Centro Ecologico Akumal: Established in July of 1993, CEA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the ecologically sustainable development of the Cancun-Tulum corridor. CEA promotes conservation of the natural habitat and native culture through research and education.” Facebook

SEE Turtles: “…is working to protect endangered sea turtles by growing the market for conservation travel to support small conservation programs around the world. SEE Turtles also connects volunteers to conservation projects and educates students both in the US and near key turtle nesting sites around Latin America.

Pyewacky Press will donate–

1 copy of Elizabeth’s Landing to any U.S. sea turtle conservation group’s library or store, also 1 (English language) copy to 10, non-U.S. groups. Representatives can use the Contact Me page to make a request.

Peace and do what you can. 

6 Ways to Celebrate-and Help Save-Pacific Leatherbacks Join Their Conservation Day 10/15/13

Numero Uno~
Watch this beautiful video of Lula by filmmaker, Boombaye

author tuttle for .28 hi

The Ancient Past

Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtle species (up to 6 ft long, 2000 lbs), arguably not the prettiest, but certainly the deepest divers. While not as old as sharks at 320 million years (here even before trees), leatherbacks, like all sea turtle species, are ancient creatures–over 100 million years on the planet.

Archelon skeleton, an ancient sea turtle. Photo from the Peabody Museum at Yale. 80.5 million years old

Archelon skeleton, an ancient sea turtle, 80.5 million years old. Photo Wikipedia, from the Peabody Museum at Yale.

The ancient Archelon above, believed to be a direct ancestor to the leatherback, was swimming the oceans in what is now South Dakota.

Fast forward–skidding toward the cliff?

Here we sit 100 million years later, staring into the barrel of extinction for the glorious, ponderous Pacific leatherback. Important Western Pacific nesting sites have dropped 78% in 30 years. Higher global temps warm nesting sands, leading to male-only hatches.

Leatherback_sea_turtle_CC-ryan Somma

Leatherback sea turtle
Photo: Ryan Somma, Creative Commons

Recognizing the Pacific leatherback’s peril and the importance of jellyfish feeding grounds off the Golden State (a stunning 7,000-mile migration), legislators placed restrictions on fishing practices and created fishing exclusion zones along the California coast. Oregon and Washington adopted similar restrictions in an effort to protect and extend loggerhead migration and feeding territory. In 2012, California designated the Pacific leatherback our State Marine Mammal. The annual celebration day, October 15th, is a chance to remember they’re here, but more importantly to recognize their escalating decline and double down on conservation efforts. Nothing short of rapier-sharp vigilance, hard work, and strong education efforts will ensure the Pacific loggerheads’ future.

Let’s start with the fun (subtext: cheerful education leads to action).

Celebration ideas: 

Leatherback hatchling Photograph: Scott Benson NOAA

Leatherback hatchling
Photograph: Scott Benson NOAA

2) Spread the word! Visit Sea Turtle Conservation Program’s list of celebration ideas. I’ve taken the pledge, visited, “Liked,” and shared the Leatherback’s Celebration Facebook page. Read, share or gift books about sea turtles. Fiction or non-fiction, there’s something out there for all ages.

3) Collect and cut out the plastic! Plastic and beach debris collection is paramount to keeping litter out of the mouths and guts of sea turtles (leatherbacks are particularly prone to eating any plastic, including balloons, that looks like a jellyfish). Beach debris can block hatchlings from reaching the ocean and make them more vulnerable to predators.

   A challenge: try going without plastic for 1 week. track how much and what plastic you avoided using or buying. Post what you learned here, your own blog, Facebook, etc. What can you turn into permanent changes to your plastic use? My Plastic Free Life is an encouraging and practical blog (and book) to make the shift a whole lot easier. Here are two products I’ve adopted. Eliminated plastic shampoo and cream rinse bottles and plastic floss container. Love both products.

Almost plastic free. Floss roll is in a little plastic bag to keep the mint oil fresher, longer.

Almost plastic free. Floss roll is in a paper box, but uses a little plastic bag inside to keep the mint oil fresher, longer. Unflavored floss and non-plastic toothbrush next on the list.

Celebrating=balloons, right? WRONG! Balloons and their ribbons deplete scarce and dwindling helium supplies (critical to medicine and science), drift for miles, and end up as deadly trash for sea turtles, mammal marine life, and birds. Balloons Blow has festive, safe alternatives and more information.

4) Food fun. Bake dinner rolls, breakfast treats, or breads in the shape of sea turtles to give to friends and family with info about loggerheads and the Celebration Day.

Boudin Bakery Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons.

Boudin Bakery Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, CA © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons.

How about turtle cupcakes to give out in class with a note asking people to reduce plastic use and to learn about sea turtles. Give them a link or three to your favorite leatherback websites, photos, or articles.

     Healthier alternatives? Make a turtle-shaped fruit bowl from a watermelon. Invite the neighborhood in. Here’s a charming, and edible, fable about how land turtles went to the sea (complete with carved vegetable and egg turtle characters and curry recipe) from VegSpinz.

5) Artistic Fun. Halloween’s coming. Carve a turtle image into your pumpkin and hand out info on how balloons can turn into real-life “ghouls” for wildlife.

see link above for more ideas, or create your own

see link above for more ideas, or create your own

6) Donate. Leatherback sea turtles, like every endangered species, hugely depend on us human beings stepping up to solve problems driving them to extinction. Species celebration days are reminders of our part and our responsibilities.

Give, if you can, money, time, and/or talent to your favorite sea turtle organizations. Two that work for Pacific leatherbacks are Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Sea Turtles Forever and See Turtles (eco trips to work with leatherbacks).

Re-post this blog or find others. Then reach deeper and farther. If petitions cross your social media or e-mail, ones asking governments to enforce turtle protection laws, please read and consider signing because…

Threats to leatherbacks (and many other sea turtles) continue to grow:

Egg and turtle predation: by humans and animals. Poaching (with increasing links to drug use and trafficking) in third-world countries tops the list of species decline. Quasi-legal egg collection is sometimes part of agreements between locals and turtle conservationists who share the eggs for mutual benefit (80%/20% for example in Guatamala). One group for livelihood and food. The other for hatch and release. 

Longline and shrimp bottom trawl shrimp fishing (pelagic longline fishing is now banned off CA, OR, and WA coast).

However, “Spiraling loggerhead deaths (are) linked to fishing gear off Baja California” October 2, 2013. “This year, 705 dead loggerheads were reported by officials”… in two months. “Scientists say the official numbers are far below the reality.”

leatherback caught in long-line fishing gear. Photo by Philip Miller Creative Commons via Seaturtle.org

leatherback caught in long-line fishing gear. Goes from being a turtle to being “by-catch” of the fishing industry. This turtle was cut free and returned to life as a turtle. Photo by Philip Miller Creative Commons via Seaturtle.org

Up to half the leatherback turtles each year are caught and killed or injured in longline fisheries. They continue to drown in shrimp nets due to lack of Turtle Excluder Device rule enforcement and low fines. Longline targets migratory fish species: tuna, swordfish, and halibut and the rapid reduction in the numbers of Pacific leatherbacks may be telling us current regs and practices aren’t working.

Marine pollution: After fishing, THE MAJOR CAUSE OF DEATH among adult leatherbacks: plastic bags, styrofoam, and other marine debris that mimic their food–jellyfish. Entanglement and drowning in fishing gear, oil spills, and boat strikes also take their toll.

Beach development: Increased erosion and night lights disorient hatchlings who head toward the brightest light, their guide to the horizon and water. They end up in someone’s patio or mired in dune grass instead.

Sea Turtles Forever has “established a Sea Turtle Hotline for people to report sea turtle sightings in the Northeastern Pacific foraging areas. Please call 1-503-739-1446 or e-mail us at info@seaturtleforever.com to report a sea turtle sighting in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean or on any Canadian, Washington, Oregon or California Beaches.”

Other information sources used in this blog.

Marc Carvajal, San Francisco State University (The Biogeography of Leatherback Sea Turtles); Sea Turtle Restoration Project (“Amazing Facts About Leatherbacks” pdf download); Wikipedia.

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For a true-to-life sea turtle and family saga, visit Elizabeth’s Landing: a novel by Katy Pye

Ages 10 to adult. Widely available in paperback and e-books.

I donate part of book sale profits to sea turtle conservation programs. 

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