When In México – Saving Tortugas 101

The most common fate of baby tortugas – RIP (Photo: Natalia Delgado)

So what’s a tortuga (pronounced: tôr-too-gah)? Well, it’s the spanish name for a turtle, and frankly I love it, even more than turtle, (which I already think is a pretty cool name) so I’ll stick with tortugas from here on in.

I’ve wanted to release tortugas since I spent a month in Mexico last December and heard you could help liberate them. The stats on this are quite staggering. The Californian lady who helped run the tortuga camp – where they protect the eggs until they hatch – along with the local biologists, told us that there used to be 250 odd species of sea tortugas. Thanks to poachers there are now only 8 left. That’s not all. Unassisted, the survival rate of a baby tortuga from its nest to the sea is only 1%; human support increases that survival rate to 80%. It’s easy to see why these camps are necessary. Here are a few more facts before I get into the story:

What kind of tortugas were you releasing?

The sea tortugas nesting in the area were Olive Ridleys. Their shells grow to be about 60-70cm long when fully developed, they begin mating and nesting after about 8 years, and females lay up to three clutches per season – up to 100+ eggs. More on these cool creatures here.

How do you tell if your tortuga is a señor o señorita?

Bueno, if the belly of the tortuga is flat it’s a señorita and if it’s concave it’s a señor. It’s simple science people – the boys go on top.

Can anyone liberate a tortuga – what’s it cost?

Well that depends, as most things do, on who you are. If you do as most tourists do and book a tour (a bus to the beach and someone pointing you to the camp) it’ll be $50+, when really it only cost $2. On that note, stop being a tourist. You know the saying if there’s a will there’s a way? Well if there’s a tour for it, there’s a way to get it dirt cheap. I don’t have anything against the locals astronomically overcharging tourists whatsoever – I’d do the same thing. It’s how the ecosystem works. The lazy people pay extreme amounts of money for what slightly more savvy people, experienced travelers, prefer to do on the cheap. Walk down the beach and talk to people, it’s easy folks.

La liberación de las tortugas

So here we all were, on the white sandy Nuevo Vallarta beach in Banderas bay, before a most beautiful sunset, waiting for the tortuga lady to arrive to begin the ceremony. As the rest of the mainly local crowd gathered, we paid our 25 pesos (less than $2.50 USD) and got the run down form the biologists as we watched all the baby tortugas wiggle in the giant bowl. It’s possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

Baby Ninja Tortugas (Photo: Natalia Delgado)

Tortuga Nests (Photo: Natalia Delgado)

The baby tortugas hatch in the morning but the biologists collect and keep them all until dusk to minimize the risk of interference, by predators and stupid humans, during their slow sand paddle to the sea. We headed down to the water and the biologists drew a line in the sand, 5 meters or so back from the tide-line. We bathed our hands in wet sand and were each given a tortuga to hold – totally cool since many camps don’t let you touch them. The camp’s belief is that by creating a physical connection with a tortuga the experience will have a much more powerful impact, providing us with a greater respect for nature and the serious issue of tortuga protection. Just like the baby tortugas have to be released on the sand so they can imprint the beach within themselves for when they return to nest, those little babies imprinted themselves in us.

Ready, set, GO! We set our tortugas down to begin their journey to the sea. Frank (Tanner’s tortuga) and Dos Equis (Peter’s tortuga) got off to a blazing 0.001km/day start, and Tortilla (my tortuga) wasn’t too far behind. Unfortunately our friend Henry somehow placed his poor tortuga down backwards, facing away from the sea, giving it an even better chance of survival… fail. Don’t worry the biologists helped the little dude out after a while and he got his dose of sea water. As the sun set and complete dark drew near, we watched the last of the tortugas wiggle their way into the waves and get swept off their little paddlers into the sea. It was an amazing experience, and we were all stoked about having been apart of it. When it was all said and one Tanner took home the fat sack of pesos on Frank’s behalf.

Final Race Results

1. Frank (the tank) – Tanner’s
2. Dos Equis – Peter’s
3. Tortilla – mine
4. Lento pero Seguro (slow but steady) – Natalia’s
5. Leonardo – Henry’s <-- required rescuing We save lives - what have you done lately? Go find your next adventure.
Sr. Dos Equis, Me, Bronceado McNube, and The Naughty Head Master – not all stories can be told
(Photo: Natalia Delgado)

Copyright © Robin Campbell 2014