The idea behind the creation of History was to provide our volunteers and supporters an opportunity to understand and appreciate the struggle behind our efforts to preserve the marine turtle over the past three decades.
The first time I set eyes on San Pancho was in mid-November of 1991 when I and four other friends drove 1,425 miles to San Pancho from California to visit a long time resident of Idyllwild, Judith Anderson. She had moved to San Pancho two years earlier to join a friend. During our ten day visit they told us a sad story concerning the local Marine turtles. The story was short and chilling. At the time nearly 95% of all marine turtle nests were being dug up for food or sale, and of the 5% that remained most were destroyed by dogs who would dig up the nests and eat or later eat the hatchlings as they reached the surface. To make the story even more chilling when we were told that the three local restaurants were killing up to as many as five turtles each year to B-B-Q and/or were selling turtles eggs.
Scott, one of the five other visitors, and I hatched a plan to return to San Pancho in early June of 1992 and start a program to protect marine turtles, with the idea of turning the program over to the local community as soon as it was up and running. When we returned in early June, Judith with help from a friend built a small nursery and let us live in there home while they escaped the heat north of the border.
Before they left we were told that if we were lucky we might find about ten nests during the entire summer. That first night we hit the beach only to find dozens of empty nest holes. Apparently there were about 36 other nest hunters on the six beaches, and they knew what they were doing. In a period of two weeks we were only able to find a small handful of nests. It seemed hopeless at the time.
After two weeks of walking the beach we realized that we were outnumbered, and didn’t know what the hell we were doing! Later Scott and I came up with the idea of putting my 4x4 Mazda pickup on the beach to outrun our competition. The pickup did extremely well on the beach as we took off from the north end driving south towards town. When we reached the area of the malecon about fifteen kids and their dogs came running after us. We were able to outrun them, at least for now.
When we returned to the area of the malecon a wall of kids and their dogs stopped us dead in our tracks. At this time there were only six old junk cars in town. For the kids riding in a pickup on the beach was a luxury. So the kids joined us in the back of the pickup including all their dogs. The big kids sat on the tailgate and the small fry were crammed up against the camper window. Loaded and ready to go we headed north and within 100 yards we found our first nests. We asked several kids to guard the nest, but the reply was …..no way! So we had to pull two kids off the tailgate and set them down by the nesting turtle, but the kids jumped back on the tailgate as we moved on. We had to return them to the nest again. Within another 100 yards we found one more turtle nesting.
During the first week Juan Flores and his sons joined our effort to preserve the marine turtles. After 28 years the Flores family is still helping us to this day.
Within a month we were able to cover all six beaches with the help of the kids, with very little poaching to boot. By the end of the year the kids were digging up the nests and placing them in the nursery. Although by now the poachers and local restaurants were beginning to push back, especially when they were told that poaching had been totally illegal since 1990.
In late 1992 the group had a membership grown to about 27 members. It was decided that we should become a “Mexican Nonprofit Civil Association.” With that settled, I left for the States, planning to return to Puerto Vallarta in April 1993 of the next year when our new Association’s constitution was to be signed at the notary public.
A month after the officers and board members signed the constitution we held our first meeting to correct some earlier problems. During our meetings we actively planned many different environmental projects with detailed steps to complete them. The members worked together to plan, vote on and achieve what they wanted. As a group of 27 members we began a regular program to clean all the beaches, as well as the streets in town and the river bed, not just once but every week, and for the first time ever. We helped rebuild both plazas and conducted environmental seminars for adults and weekly environmental classes for children, plus put up hundreds of signs to stop illegal dumping, planted thousands of hardwood trees, amoung many other things.
The Group’s community environmental projects were making a big change. There was only one remaining problem - poaching of the marine turtle nests. To solve this problem the members felt that education of the community’s children was the best and only solution, and they were totally correct.
Environmental classes were held on the beach, twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday, 9 to 12 AM. It was necessary to have at least seven mother’s help supervise each class of 70 different kids. For a kid in town these classes were the only public activity they truly enjoyed. Our plan to stop poaching was creative. At each class we brought a small basket of hatchlings. The kids and mothers fell in love with them and both kids and mothers pledged they would never eat an egg or turtle meat again.