MEXICO CITY -- Despite nearly two decades of conservation efforts, the world's biggest sea turtle species continues to disappear from Mexican waters and is sliding toward extinction worldwide, federal officials said yesterday.
The leatherback can grow 6-8 feet long and weigh between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds. In Mexico, an adult population of 115,000 in 1982 dwindled to between 20,000 and 30,000 by 1996, officials told reporters.
"If we don't do something, we could lose the species in a very short time," said Oscar Ramirez, director of field operations for the wildlife division of the federal environmental prosecutor's office, Profepa.
Efforts to protect the leatherback have slowed its rate of disappearance, but the species probably won't begin recovering for at least 15 years, said Luis Fueyo, Profepa's director of inspections.
Laws designed to protect sea turtles in Mexico were first approved in 1988 and were tightened last year. Those caught trafficking turtles now can face up to nine years in prison.
During 139 sting operations in 2003, federal agents confiscated 231,975 turtle eggs and 101 products made using turtles and arrested 59 people. Through April of this year, federal laws had been used to prosecute nine people, Fueyo said.