Murals Inspire Sea Turtle Conservation on Baja Peninsula

A new study finds that sea turtle murals in public spaces are raising awareness about marine conservation issues in Mexico. IUCN CEC members AJ Schneller conducted the study with Alyssa Irizarry. 

San Juanico mural illustrating an ocean ecosystem in which fisherfolk, surfers, and sea turtles coexist Photo: AJ Schneller

Murals featuring marine life can be found in most towns on the Baja peninsula – from restaurants to gas stations and schools. These large-scale illustrations, painted by local artists, non-governmental organizations, and school groups, depict endangered sea turtles in a variety of scenes: a community releases a sea turtle fitted with a radio transmitter; a world map outlines the global migratory route of the loggerhead sea turtle; and fishermen welcome guests to “The sea turtle capital of the Pacific Ocean.”

In a newly published research article by Schneller and Irizarry (Ocean & Coastal Management, v.89, 2014), researchers conducted 333 surveys and interviews with both adult and student participants in nine B.C.S. communities. Their results point to the community outcomes of environmentally themed murals and the effects related to helping to shape pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors towards the treatment and recovery of endangered sea turtles and stewardship of marine ecosystems.

According to sea turtle researcher and ocean advocate, Wallace J. Nichols (, the first sea turtle mural on the Peninsula was painted at The School for Field Studies' campus in Puerto San Carlos, on the shores of Magdalena Bay. Subsequent sea turtle murals were later painted by students and communities, and as part of a holistic outreach campaign by the unifying non-governmental organization in the state, Grupo Tortuguero de Las Californias. Their ongoing education and outreach initiatives include workshops for fisherfolk, environmental education for schoolchildren, regional sea turtle festivals, and innovative community-based social marketing comic books, radio programming, and sea turtle murals.

The results of Schneller and Irizarry's study suggest that pro-environmental attitudes can develop with exposure to sea turtle murals. Both students and adult respondents explained with greater frequency that the murals affected their environmental knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors, than they responded that murals were solely regarded as an item of beauty. Such responses point to the educational and motivational value of murals—essentially influential—rather than purely aesthetic. Further, the murals stand the test of time, and are a cost-effective fixed reminder of a community's responsibility to protection of the marine environment and endangered species.

In the words of interview respondents, the community murals teach, inspire, call attention to, motivate, remind, and explain to viewers the importance of sea turtle and marine conservation. Environmental murals have also provided a means by which communities have public access to information about the marine environment. By collecting these data, researchers now have a better understanding about the contributions of murals when utilized as one tool within a suite of outreach initiatives where the overall goal is community empowerment for responsible marine stewardship.


Schneller, A. J. and A. Irizarry (2014) Imaging conservation: Sea turtle murals and their effect on community pro-environmental attitudes in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Ocean and Coastal Management 89:100-111.


Andrew J. Schneller, Ph.D. -

Alyssa Irizarry -


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