Every year, between the months of May and September, giant ocean dwelling turtles come ashore to fulfill the last, crucial stage of their reproductive cycle: laying their eggs in the sand.
The most common types of turtles found along the coasts of Cancun and the Riviera Maya are the Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), the Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), and the Green turtle (Che-lonia mydas). The Loggerhead stands out for its reddish-brown coloration; it usually weighs about 140 kg (300 lbs). The Hawksbill has been hunted for its translucent carapace, used to produce tortoiseshell combs and other ornamental articles. It can weigh anywhere between 14 kg and 45 kg (30-100 lbs.). The Green turtle, so-called for its green body fat, usually weights between 45kg and 90kg (100-200 lbs).
All of these oversized but beautiful and docile creatures are in danger of extinction, in spite of the many measures and laws the Mexican government and other international organizations have implemented to protect them. Locally, a great number of individuals, groups and even hotels are working together to help the turtles.
Francisco C. Cardenas, better know as Don Francisco, Security Supervisor at a hotel located near Punta Nizuc, in Cancun, reports that he and his staff play a special role in the battle to protect the turtles, "Our staff members are assigned to stay alert during the season when turtles are expected. When a turtle is spotted, we make sure she is not disturbed or scared off by curious onlookers, if she feels threatened, she will head back into the ocean. We give the turtle the space and privacy needed to carry out her vital mission."
At nightfall, the mother turtle crawls ashore seeking a quiet spot on the beach. Once she feels safe, she begins to dig a large, fairly deep pit in the dry sand to complete her task. The egg-laying phase itself takes only about twenty minutes, but one can see tears running down the turtle's face as she groans and whines during the obviously grueling process.
The eggs are collected as they arrive by a member of Don Francisco's team. They are then carefully placed inside large plastic containers serving as artificial nests. No sophisticated procedures are involved: the eggs are simply left alone until they hatch, some fifty days later. Don Francisco estimates that the Loggerhead lays 160 eggs per nest (sometimes up to three times per season), while the hawksbill will lay 120 and the Green around 90.
After the baby turtles find their way out of their shells, they are allowed to rest while they gain the strength needed to begin their dangerous journey; many will never make it to adulthood, but will fall prey to seabirds and other marine creatures. This is why every effort directed towards supporting their reproduction is vital for these species' survival.
To increase the odds of the turtles' survival, a monitored release of the babies into the ocean takes place; children and adults alike are invited to actively participate in this process. Once no scavenging seabirds are seen circling the area, the babies are carefully hand-placed on the sand. It is awe-inspiring to see the tiny creatures instinctively crawling towards the water. Last year Don Francisco's team released over 1,000 baby turtles.
-by Indra Rojo Chapman, article and photos reprinted from Cancun
Tips Magazine, Fall, 1999.)
We watched a Loggerhead turtle for almost half and hour feeding on the bottom at Yalku Lagoon this past February (2001). He was beautiful and so graceful as he surfaced several times while we watched. We stayed about 3-4 feet away from him, quietly watching; he wasn't at all disturbed by our presence. later that week I was told there was a turtle in Soliman Bay, probably a Green by the description. What an adventure for all of us!
The Si'an Kaan Biosphere Preserve also implements a monitoring program along the oceanside in the Preserve and along the Tulum Hotel row. Using volunteers, they mark the nests, watch for poachers, and release many baby turtles at night when they are ready. It's an amazing sight to observe. "Come join us!"