Friday, July 26, 2013

Turtle Nesting in the Riviera Maya

Loggerhead Turtle Playa Xpu Ha

Running down the beach under a starlit sky, following the pale red light bobbing ahead of me, getting a little out of breath and feeling the sweat trickle down my neck. We're on turtle patrol on Playa Xpu Ha in the Riviera Maya, looking for nesting mamas to ensure that they are able to lay their eggs in peace and make their way back to the sea. Guillermo Camarena of Animo-OneWorld is a man on a mission, his job during turtle nesting season to monitor the long stretch of beach on Playa Xpu Ha, tracking the nests, moving eggs to protected areas and educating tourists and locals alike in how to preserve and protect these incredible creatures. He invited us to shadow him for a night in his valiant conservation quest.

Guillermo is obviously accustomed to hustling fast down the beach, it was really tough to keep up with him! We were glad we did though, as we huffed and puffed approached the Al Cielo hotel we came upon a beautiful loggerhead female in the process of laying her eggs. She had dug her nest very close to the hotel property in a high traffic area so it was decided that her eggs would be moved to the enclosed and protected area that has been set up on Xpu Ha, joining the 10000 other eggs already waiting to hatch. When mama was done, she had added 115 eggs to the count!

Loggerhead laying eggs (warning, turtle vagina!)

When she started to make her way back to the sea, we moved just a few meters north and came upon a green turtle completing her annual task. She had already dug her nest, laid her eggs and was in the process of covering her hole again. Her powerful flippers dug in and gave us a nice sandy shower, making a WHAP WHAP WHAP noise as she did. Guillermo and his team took detailed photos of the turtles' heads in the hopes of identifying them by their markings, they measured the shells and checked the general health of each tortuga. Their organization relies on donations and has very limited funding, so they do not have the money to invest in tagging operations which would really be ideal. (Hint hint, click the link, make a donation!)

Catching the eggs

Bucket of 115 loggerhead turtle eggs

When the green turtle started her return trip, we went back to the "home base" at the Xpu Ha entrance and were lucky enough to be a part of one of the first turtle releases of the season. The first nests are starting to hatch and the babies are ready to start their lives in the sea. These little cuties sure move fast, almost impossible to get a good photo with their speed and the low light!

More than 100 protected nests, more than 10000 eggs

We had a terrific night, a magical experience with these gorgeous creatures! If you are in the Riviera Maya during turtle nesting season, PLEASE take note of the following:

1  Do NOT take flash photography or use any white light on the beach at night. Use a flashlight with a red filter (red t-shirt or bandana will do the trick). Ask your hotel to shut off any outside lights.
2. Do NOT approach the turtles unless turtle patrol/conservationists invite you to do so. If you see a turtle coming to shore, report it to hotel security or nearby turtle patrols. Do not interfere, they spook easy and will return to the sea without laying their eggs.
3. Pick up your trash! Do not leave anything on the beach (toys, towels, etc) that could impede their movements. Ask hotels to move their lounge chairs and tables in at night.
4. Donate to local organizations devoted to the conservation and protection of sea turtles. They need all the help they can get!

The turtles have been making this journey for milenia, now they are in danger as humans take over their turf. Let's do all we can to protect them and ensure that their journeys continue for a long time to come.

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