If you are thinking about romance on the beautiful coasts of Cancun, Los Cabos or Puerto Vallarta this summer, you are not alone. Thousands of sea turtles will also make the journey here to mate.
Sea turtles are a reptile. The existence of sea turtles has been traced back as far as 225 million years ago. They have survived throughout a long period of time during which many other species became extinct. There are seven species of sea turtles that exist today, and sadly, almost all of them are classified as endangered. They have suffered from poaching, habitat destruction, and climate change, among other things.
These are the seven recognized species of sea turtles:
- olive ridley
- green turtle
- black turtle
- flatback turtle
Mexico has the privilege of being visited by six of the seven species of sea turtles, who come to reproduce on our beaches. The only species that doesn’t visit us is the flatback turtle, which is endemic to Australia.
Sea turtles live in the ocean, but they all start their life on land. Male turtles almost never return to land after hatching, but during breeding season they stay close to the shore for a few months in order to mate. After breeding season, they travel hundreds of thousands of miles to feeding grounds.
Mothers go on land to nest and lay their eggs on the very same beaches they were born on. Once they have made their nest, they cover it with sand and return to sea. After 45 to 60 days, the eggs hatch, the baby sea turtles emerge and hurry towards the sea. Hatchlings usually emerge from the nest at nighttime to reduce their exposure to daytime predators.
Green and loggerhead sea turtles favor Quintana Roo’s coasts for nesting. They can lay from 100 to 150 eggs. While mothers lay a lot of eggs, the probability is that from a thousand baby turtles, only one will survive until adulthood. While on land they are vulnerable to predators such as crabs, dogs, and birds. Once they are in the ocean, they are vulnerable to multiple threats including fishing boats. Sometimes they get injured by boat propellers, get entangled in fishing hooks or caught in fishing nets. For the female turtles who make it, they’ll return again in 10 years when it is time for them to reproduce.
In Mexico, the federal government has taken steps towards protecting, conserving and researching sea turtles. In 1990, fishing sea turtles became prohibited. In 1994, all sea turtle species were classified as endangered. Since then, several sea turtle protection camps have been created by the federal government and non-governmental organizations.
On Quintana Roo’s coast, Flora, Fauna y Cultura de México, A.C. (Mexican Flora, Fauna and Culture) is one of the main non-governmental organizations working to protect the nesting sea turtles and over the past ten years they have released approximately 2 million baby turtles out to sea.
In Isla Mujeres there is a turtle farm known as La Tortugranja. There they take care of the eggs. Inside this farm, there is an aquarium where visitors can observe different species of sea turtles. The Turtle Farm is located to the south of the Island, on the Sac-Bajo highway, about a kilometer north of Playa Lancheros.
Puerto Vallarta is visited by olive ridley, leatherback, black, and hawksbill sea turtles. Olive ridley sea turtles are the most common in Vallarta and spawn the most. Since nesting happens on the beaches of many resorts, the hotel industry has also been involved in sea turtle protection and conservation for the past 36 years. They work with environmental experts and sometimes host special events during the hatching season.
The Boca de Tomates Turtle Camp (Campamento Tortuguero Boca de Tomates) has been working to protect sea turtles in the area for the past 25 years and is part of Red Tortuguera A.C., a non-profit civil association, that works together with Puerto Vallarta’s municipality and ecology offices. The nesting season in Puerto Vallarta is from June to January. They collected 50 turtle nests last month. They collect the eggs and take them to a safe place to complete their incubation period. Once the baby turtles are ready to be released, they are brought back to the beach where they were found, and released into the ocean. Red Tortuguera A.C. accepts volunteers and teaches them about all the work they do in the turtle Camp including: night patrols, finding nests, collecting the eggs, putting the eggs in the nursery, holding the hatchlings, and finally helping to release them. In the turtle camp, they always need help, building things, repairing the shacks or the nursery, moving the nests, giving information about turtles to the tourists, so, they ask the volunteers to do that with them. For more information about the volunteer program, contact Jose Antonio at +52 322 263 0249 (he speaks English). Mention that you are a member of TAFER Hotels & Resorts and he can tailor the volunteer program to fit your schedule. If you plan to visit Puerto Vallarta and think it would be a valuable experience for your children to get involved with, they could work in the turtle camp from 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm daily. Of course, parents are welcome too.
Five species of sea turtles make their way to the Baja California peninsula and the Sea of Cortez to lay their eggs, including the hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, green turtle and olive ridley. Turtle season in this area is from late August until early December. In this region, ASUPMATOMA (Association for the Protection of the Environment and the Marine Turtle in Southern Baja) helps protect the sea turtles, along with other organizations.
The government, hotel industry and non-profit organizations all work to protect the nests, relocate the nests and help with the release. They also raise awareness for locals and tourists to respect the life of sea turtles. Thanks to these efforts, almost 96% of the eggs are incubated successfully.
If you are heading to the coasts of Mexico this summer, see if you can become involved with a baby sea turtle release. It will be a fascinating experience to watch them and a very worthwhile ecotourism activity. Reserve now for summer 2020!