09 August 2013

Number from the Sea of Cortez: Approaching Zero. Turtles, that is.

Leatherback Turtle (credit: Wikipedia Commons)
The August 2013 issue of Harpers (@harpers) features a grim assessment of the world's fisheries. Featured in the stories told by Eric Vance (@erikvance) are a brief history of turtle exploitation in the Sea of Cortez (the Gulf of California):
In 1962 alone, fishermen pulled 186 tons of turtles out of a single bay, the Bahia de Los Angeles. In the early 1970's, Kino lobster divers made a strange discovery. During the winter, the reptiles lazed on the seafloor, barely moving for months. Thus began a decade-long bonanza as divers picked thousands of turtles off the ocean bottom. . . By 1982, the turtle population in the Bay had declined by 96 percent. By 1990, when Mexico announced a nationwide ban on turtle fishing, they were nearly extinct.
Parts of the Sea are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, but conservation enforcement and local economic pressures have contributed to dimming prospects for the specialized ecosystem supported in the Sea. (Article pay wall). The importance of this particular slice of ocean seems unassailable:
Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez the "Aquarium of the World," citing both its extraordinary variety of life and its accessible bounty. In many ways, the sprawling sea is the world's ocean writ small. The west is deep and rock; the east, shallow and sandy. In the Upper Gulf, temperatures can swing from chilly in the winter to hot and tropical in the summer. The water is crystal clear in some places, murky in others. It hosts an astounding 950 fish species, 10 percent of which are found nowhere else in the world, including the world's most endangered marine mannal -- a diminutive porpoise call the vaquita ("little cow").

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