Community Outreach and Education Efforts Mobilize Sea Turtle Conservation Movement

02 August 2010 | News story

Community parnterships, social marketing and environmental education are raising the profile of the sea turtle conservation movement in Baja California Sur, Mexico, as documented in a new study by CEC member A.J. Schneller with Patricia Baum.

  • Fromsea turtle soup to fostering an emerging democracy, the Baja California Sur, Mexico sea turtle conservation movement is swimmingly successful. Where the Sonoran Desert meets the Pacific Ocean in Baja California Sur, Dr. A.J. Schneller and Patricia Baum document how unique instances of NGO/community partnerships, community based social marketing, and environmental education have changed the face of environmental civic engagement and endangered species protections in this remote corner of NW Mexico. 

In a newly published research article by Schneller and Baum (VOLUNTAS, 2010) researchers document how the unique community outreach and education efforts of the Grupo Tortuguero conservation network in Baja California Sur (B.C.S.), Mexico have contributed to the emergence of environmental civic engagement and democratic transitions in the state. Over the past 10 years ocean advocates in B.C.S., both Mexican and American, have gained unfounded momentum in their efforts to save an endangered species that before 1990 was more likely known as a culinary delight than an icon of an emerging democracy. While culminating in an effort to coordinate a network of 19 sea turtle conservation community groups and 17 NGOs it’s important to understand the hurdles they have overcome to gain fishery community and agency support for the protection of endangered species.

Through 799 interviews with the public, directors of NGOs, and environmental agencies in B.C.S., we found a robust effort within the movement to overcome longstanding public and agency mistrust and cynicism towards NGOs. Part of this success was founded on the ability of the movement to:

  • mobilize community environmental volunteers;
  • implement experiential environmental learning programs in B.C.S. schools;
  • develop community based social marketing techniques using popular media figures;
  • sustain sea turtle festivals; and
  • train coastal communities in sea turtle and nest monitoring techniques.

Of penultimate importance was Grupo Tortuguero’s work to provide a voice for isolated coastal fishing communities, the epicenters for the prior legal and now illicit trade in endangered sea turtle products. Throughout B.C.S. these communities in the past received little attention or support from the environmental community. But despite the fact that sea turtle community groups in B.C.S. are geographically dispersed, the social networking opportunities provided through environmental norm entrepreneurs such as Grupo Tortuguero have contributed to the emergence of new voluntary environmental associations and resulting public participation. Growth of the sea turtle conservation movement is due in no small part to community access to this broader conservation network, technical training, funding, and organizational and ideological support, all contributing to competency, solidarity, empowerment, and political clout for the communities.

Highlighting the broader outcomes and implications of efforts to protect endangered sea turtles on the Baja peninsula, we found that this active environmental movement is responsible in many instances for changes in public and agency attitudes toward environmental NGOs. The ability of the sea turtle conservation movement to gain the attention and cooperation of the centralized federal environmental agencies gives us an indication that such accomplishments in the environmental sphere in B.C.S. are generalizable to other regions of Mexico. For the Mexican environmental movement interested in protecting and restoring biological diversity — in terms of public influence with federal agency programs — the findings of the study provide insights that Mexican environmental agencies might be increasingly amenable to furthering the inroads of citizen lead environmental movements.

Mexican federal agencies who in the past were reluctant to give up responsibilities have realized that their work cannot be accomplished without the continued assistance of community groups and NGOs. More importantly, in relation to broader environmental policy outcomes and the continued democratization of Mexico’s government, federal agency agreeability toward the goals of the B.C.S. sea turtle conservation community has resulted in NGOs having greater access to political and conservation decision-making.

Full report >> Schneller and Baum (2010) The Emergence of Associational Life in México’s Wild West: Pioneering Civic Participation, Sea Turtle Conservation, and Environmental Awareness in Baja California Sur, Voluntas

Related Links
The School for Field Studies: www.fieldstudies.org/
Grupo Tortuguero: www.grupotortuguero.org/
Ocean Revolution: www.oceanrevolution.org/
Wildcoast: www.wildcoast.net/
ProPeninsula: www.propeninsula.org/

AJ Schneller, ajschneller@hotmail.com&gt