For Immediate Release, June 3, 2021

Contact:

Alejandro Olivera, Center for Biological Diversity, +52 612 104 0604, aolivera@biologicaldiversity.org
Ricardo Ruiz, Mexican Center for Environmental Law, +52 5559644162, ricardo_ruiz@cemda.org.mx

Records: More Than 1,000 Loggerhead Sea Turtles Died in Mexico in 2020

Under International Scrutiny, Government Denies Bycatch as Cause of Death, Despite Evidence

LA PAZ, Mexico— According to newly obtained official data from the Mexican government, at least 1,088 North Pacific loggerhead turtles died in 2020 in Baja California Sur, Mexico, likely because of entanglement in fishing gear.

At least 1,977 turtles have died over the past four years. The large number of deaths in 2020 — more than the previous three years combined — suggests a massive increase in entanglements.

Because of this extremely high level of sea turtle mortality, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA) filed a petition last December under the new rules of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, before the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. On Tuesday the conservation organizations received the Mexican government’s response, which denied that the turtles die trapped in fishing gear.

“The cause of the sea turtles’ deaths is abundantly clear, but the Mexican government is denying the scientific evidence, wrongly saying that turtles don’t die in fishing gear,” said Alejandro Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The situation is growing worse because the Mexican government has cancelled the loggerhead turtle protection program budget since 2016."

Endangered North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles are born in Japan and swim to the coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico to feed and reproduce. While records document more than 1,000 sea turtles stranded on local beaches, the actual number of dead turtles is likely much higher. Many of the dead sea turtles are carried away by currents and are not recorded.

According to scientific evidence, the main cause of loggerhead turtle mortality is entanglement in fishing nets. Despite this clear evidence and the fact that high levels of stranding have occurred for more than a decade, the Mexican government has not resolved the issue, and recorded strandings are only increasing.

“It is alarming that the number of dead loggerhead turtles in Mexican waters is not decreasing, even if there are plans, programs and zones for their protection,” said Mario Sánchez, director of the Northwest region of CEMDA. “This makes it clear that conservation actions are not efficient or are not applied as they should be. The Mexican authorities must address this issue before the problem escalates and affects the fishing communities of this region.”

Mortality in the Gulf de Ulloa’s marine wildlife is not new. In 2019, in addition to the 331 loggerhead turtles, 10 dolphins, 15 sea lions, 131 green sea turtles, 18 olive ridley turtles and six whales were found dead. In 2018, 459 loggerhead turtles and 97 green sea turtles were recorded. This is in addition to the 137 sea lions found dead on the same beach in September 2020.

In their 2020 USMCA petition, conservation groups requested that the Commission for Environmental Cooperation develop a factual record to formally review the number of loggerhead turtles that die in the Gulf of Ulloa in Baja, California, and whether the Mexican government is failing to effectively enforce its laws. The groups also called on the government of Mexico to step up enforcement to ensure effective compliance with existing environmental legislation.

Dead_sea_turtle_by_Alex_Olivera_Center_for_Biological_Diversity_FPWC-scr.jpg
Stranded loggerhead sea turtle at San Lazaro Beach, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo by Alex Olivera/Center for Biological Diversity. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA), is a non-governmental, non-political, non-profit organization that has been working for the defense of the environment and natural resources since 1993. Its fundamental area of work is the strengthening, consolidation, harmonization, and application of the legal-environmental system in force.