The future of the sea turtle, a species that assumed protected status in Mexico in 1990, remains uncertain: shifting weather and sea current patterns continue to threaten the reptiles along with the continuing harvest of their meat and eggs by humankind.
And they don’t seem to be getting much help from a dilapidated old turtle center in the Oaxaca coastal town of Mazunte.
The Mexican Turtle Center opened in 1994 with a mandate to prevent the disappearance of several turtle species and to raise environmental awareness among the population.
The only one of its kind in Mexico, the center is spread over a four-hectare piece of land, employs 45 people and serves as shelter for some 500 turtles of 20 different species. The center also oversees three turtle camps in the coastal communities of Escobilla, Morro Ayutla and Barra de la Cruz.
But current conditions are substandard, according to a report by Mexico’s newspaper La Jornada. Workers — who wished to remain anonymous — claimed that during the last two years at least 33 specimens have died at the center due to poor veterinary care. The animals were kept in dirty ponds and despite requiring a special diet, were fed only squid.
The workers claim that it’s been over 10 years since officials from the Natural Protected Areas Commission (Conanp), the Environment Secretariat or the Federal Auditor’s Office have set foot in the center to inspect its conditions.
According to staff, its deterioration began in 2008 when then-director Manuel Rodríguez Gómez announced the renovation and expansion of the facilities, a project that in its first stage would represent a 120-million-peso (US $6.62 million) investment.
The renovation meant tearing down the medical, laboratory and operating room areas, which is why medical operations, including necropsies, are now done in unsanitary and unfit spaces.
Rodríguez’ three-stage renovation project took him to several international destinations, including Shanghai, where he was to learn from top-notch aquariums.
In 2014 and 2015, Rodríguez negotiated an additional 17 million pesos for the second and third stages of this project with the federal and state governments, but the renovation became what the workers call a “white elephant.”
By looking at the facilities today, the first question that comes to mind is: What did Rodríguez do with those 6 million dollars?
To this day, the buildings are barely standing, turtle ponds are in dire need of maintenance and the population of reptiles keeps dropping due to the poor diet.
The workers also warned about the possible privatization of the turtle center, which they strongly reject. They want to “keep raising social awareness about this endangered species, which should not be seen as a profitable business.”
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