Taking Strides Towards Marine Conservation
After almost 40 million views on YouTube, the heartbreaking video of researchers extracting a plastic straw from a turtle’s nose has sparked a movement across the globe. Back in 2015, marine biologist Christine Figgener said “she had no idea how much it [the video] would resonate with the world. She also had no idea nearly three years later, the video would help galvanize a larger movement, which now includes companies like Starbucks and American Airlines, to eliminate plastic straws from our day-to-day lives” (TIME). Although this is just a first step in a long battle towards a greener world, every small thing matters.
When I got the opportunity this summer to intern at Fondo Oaxaqueño para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (Oaxacan Fund for Nature Conservancy), I immediately jumped at the chance. Since I was little, I was interested in marine biology and conservation, becoming inspired by my middle school teacher who used to live in Florida as a marine biologist. She would tell me stories of her excursions and the connections she felt with the animals. Being able to rekindle my passion for marine life is such a privilege.
Although it has only been a couple weeks of interning with Fondo Oaxaqueño, a lot of progress and ideas are being created. The first week, I researched the impact climate change has on leatherback turtles. Climate change is creating a temperature lethal to turtle embryos (87 F). I learned that in order to compensate for these soaring temperatures, shade mesh is placed over the turtle eggs; however, this is only a temporary tool and we need to act quickly before it is too late and these turtles become extinct. Additionally, the temperature of the beach sand determines the sex of turtle offspring during their incubation period, which could drive turtles into extinction by decreasing the number of males.
Very few fisheries in the Pacific Ocean are observed or monitored for sea turtle bycatch. Bycatch is “the portion of a commercial fishing catch that consists of marine animals caught unintentionally” (Dictionary). Leatherbacks are adversely affected by a variety of fishing gear every year. The World Wildlife Fund is currently working to introduce a new innovative fishing hook that will reduce aquatic turtle bycatch by as much as 90% without affecting intentional catches of other fish species (WWF). They have created a “circle” hook that is less likely to be swallowed by turtles. This is a huge first step, but in the future we must pressure fisheries to adapt even more to protect marine life.
We have already started coming up with new campaigns to bring awareness to communities in Oaxaca such as using songs, artwork, and poetry from local artists, handmade wristbands and even documentaries to create a bigger social media presence. Hopefully, we can motivate you to start educating your friends and family about marine conservation!