A resident with one of the turtles found in Sal creek. A resident with one of the turtles found in Sal creek.

Community watches over creek’s turtles

Poachers are a threat to creek in indigenous Chinantec community in Oaxaca

For the second time in a decade, the Chinantec indigenous people of Tuxtepec, Oaxaca, have united to protect a vital water source.

For the last 80 years Sal creek has been the only source of drinking water for the nearly 2,000 people who live in the town of Santa Úrsula.

But now poachers pose a threat to the turtles that make the creek their home.

After declining for years, turtle numbers were given a boost in 2014 when residents collaborated with a wildlife conservation program created by the federal Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat).

In that year, 500 turtles were released in the creek in Santa Úrsula and the neighboring town of Los Reyes.

But residents have accused Semarnat of failing to do any follow-up, including a count to determine how many turtles there actually are.

Reports of poachers coming from outside the area to hunt for turtles during the night have put the small village on high alert, and round-the-clock guards now watch over the creek.

The three principal species of turtle found in Sal creek are the Mexican musk turtle, the painted turtle and the Central American river turtle.

Before the turtle poachers it was an energy company that got residents’ backs up.

In 2010, Grupo Comexhidro wanted to build a small hydroelectric power plant on Sal creek, and cleared a one-kilometer stretch of shoreline to do so.

But according to residents of Santa Úrsula the company did not consult with them and little information regarding the project was made public.

With the support of several non-governmental organizations, including the international Accountability Counsel, residents halted the project.

“We are not against development,” municipal representative Gabino Vicente Francisco told the newspaper El Universal. What residents are against is “the imposing of projects without consultation.”

He said protecting the creek is a priority for the community, which is preparing its youth to be its guardians in the future.

“We are trying to instill a love for the environment, from basic things like caring for water supplies and not littering to taking action, such as monitoring Sal creek,” said Vicente.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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