What do a Hawksbill Turtle, the Bay of Jaltemba and the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation have in common?

You might remember our recent story about “Jaltemba” the Hawksbill turtle being released back into the Bay of Jaltemba. Well, just when you think the story couldn’t get any more interesting, it does.

The article below was published by George Mason University a few days ago. It explains how Alonso Aguirre, the executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, advised the team at CIIDIR National Polytechnic Institute in Sinaloa, Mexico on how to remove the hook embedded in Jaltemba’s throat. We might also add that the graduate student who’s name was not mentioned is none other than M. en C. Catherine E. Hart, our friend from Rincón de Guayabitos. Catherine has been heavily involved in the sea turtle conservation program in our area for 9 years. She is a member of Red Tortuguera A.C., she works with Los Grupos Ecologistas de Nayarit A.C. here in Jaltemba Bay and she is a Ph.D. student at CUCOSTA, Universidad de Guadalajara working on her thesis in status and conservation of sea turtles in Nayarit and the north coast of Jalisco. We want to thank Catherine for keeping us informed (and involved) so we can continue to share Jaltemba’s story with the world!

Here is a copy of the article…

Conservation Crusader Takes the Helm at Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation

August 6, 2012
By Tara Laskowski


Alonso Aguirre, executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, with a green turtle (Chelonia mydas) in a rehabilitation center in Kuroshima, Okinawa, Japan. Photo courtesy of Alonso Aguirre.

Alonso Aguirre’s first experience with sea turtles was eating them with his family when he was a child in Northern Mexico. Though the turtles were seen as a rare delicacy in that community, even then Aguirre didn’t feel quite right about it.

Now, many years later, Aguirre, executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, has made a career protecting these marine reptiles and educating fishermen, veterinarians and others about the need for their conservation.

This spring, for instance, he got a call from Alan Zavala, a professor and collaborator with CIIDIR National Polytechnic Institute in Sinaloa, Mexico, to help with an urgent problem. A graduate student had found a female Hawksbill sea turtle stranded at Jaltemba Bay with a large fishing hook stuck in its throat. According to the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, protection of the critically endangered Hawksbills in the eastern Pacific is among the world’s most pressing sea turtle conservation issues; only a few hundred females are estimated to nest along the entire region’s coastline.

Could Aguirre help guide the hook-removal surgery from Northern Virginia?

Aguirre was the right man for the job. A veterinarian by trade, Aguirre worked in Hawaii for several years for National Marine Fisheries Service, heading and pioneering the epidemiology program for endangered Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles. He is also familiar with the area where the injured turtle was found and often goes there to teach workshops on sea grass and sea turtle foraging ecology and conservation medicine.


Aguirre and members of the Grupo Tortuguero de Las Californias A.C. (Sea Turtle Conservation Group of the Californias) releasing a healthy loggerhead turtle in Bahia Magdalena, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Rivas.

Using x-rays of the turtle, Aguirre advised the team remotely on how to proceed and where to clip the hook for removal. With Aguirre and other doctors’ help, “Jaltemba” the turtle has recovered nicely. She was released in Jaltemba Bay, Nayarit, with the first satellite tracking device placed on a hawksbill turtle in the state so they can learn more about this at-risk species.

Aguirre has held many different positions, from teaching to policy making, all over the world. His career of more than 25 years spans postdoctoral research on wildlife-domestic animal disease interactions in Oregon’s national parks to service in New York as senior vice president of EcoHealth Alliance, which was a partner in the USAID-funded program PREDICT. The PREDICT project helps to prevent wildlife-to-human virus outbreaks.

With PREDICT, Aguirre was part of a team that would go to specific geographic “hot spots” in 23 countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas to collect samples from wildlife most likely to carry diseases that can be spread to humans and look for pathogens. In one area of the world, they found eight new viruses in bats alone.

“The way we travel now, the way we fragment habitats and cause environmental change – all this is causing cascade effects everywhere, and we are beginning to see severe effects,” Aguirre says.

Go to the original article to read more…

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