Saving the Sea Turtle
Our visit to Akumal and Cozumel coincided with the season of the sea turtle. These magnificent animals are an endangered species and individuals who care about the environment are working diligently to save the creatures. With limited funds and few resources these groups work with the aid of volunteers who dedicate long hours and late nights to this cause. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to observe the sea turtles as they came ashore to lay their eggs. We also helped to release baby turtles into the sea. Our 16-year-old son was captivated by this natural wonder, and he spent four nights with the project; all the action starts at 10:30 p.m. and continues into the wee hours. It's an incredible experience and we would suggestion that if you are in the area during this season, do try to experience this wildlife event.
Our interest in sea turtles stemmed from our scuba diving experiences. We have been fortunate to observe these giants of the deep blue sea on numerous occasion. While these huge shelled animals can spend up to two hours under water, they need to surface for air. It's an exhilarating opportunity to watch these graceful creatures as they glide freely through the open water. We were delighted to see so many sea turtles recently while diving in Cozumel; one turtle swam along side us for about 8 minutes then surfaced to catch a breath of air and returned to us at about 60 feet. What magnificent animals!
Ricardo, of Caballito del Caribe, our divemaster (and instructor for our son's advanced scuba diving course), detected our interest in the turtles and invited us to come and observe the protection program in action on Cozumel's east coast. The following week we were staying in Akumal where turtle nests were right outside the vacation villa where we were staying on Jade Beach. We learned much about the programs in both areas.
From April until September, sea turtles mate and the females come ashore to lay their eggs on the beach. Programs differ somewhat in Akumal and Cozumel, but the goal is the same: Protecting the newly laid eggs and releasing the baby turtles into the sea. Two types of turtles make their way to the beaches in Akumal and to the east coast of Cozumel. During the night, loggerhead and green turtles return to the same area that they were born; they dig holes where they lay their eggs. One turtle can lay up to 150 eggs at one time, and may lay three to four times during the season. The round eggs are about the size of chicken eggs.
In Akumal the eggs are left in the nest and a sign indicating the date is posted by members of the turtle protection program. When the eggs hatch (photo above left), the turtles will make their way to the sea. In Cozumel, the turtle watchers dig up the eggs immediately after they have been laid. They take the eggs to a protected area where they bury them again and put wire fencing around each nest. This protects the eggs from predators such as dogs, iguanas, birds and people. When the turtles hatch (after about 65 days), the babies are put into a "safe house" for a period of 8 days. This allows them to grow and gain some strength so that they have a better chance when they are released.
During turtle season, lights are limited along the beaches at night. This is because the baby turtles are sensitive to light and they depend on the light reflected off the ocean to guide them to their home in the sea. The use of lights can cause disorientation to the baby turtles and may scare the big turtles away, preventing them from laying their eggs.
Sea turtles are not nearly as graceful when they are out of the water; they slowly lumber across the sand and laboriously dig their nest to deposit their eggs. Once they begin laying their eggs, spectators can approach. Photo at right shows Ricardo collecting the new eggs. When finished laying, the female returns to the ocean where she will mate and come ashore when it is time to lay her eggs once again.
While the mature turtles are laying eggs there is other activity on the beach as baby turtles are ready to be released to the ocean. The young ones are positioned close to the water's edge and all lights are off as the babies scramble to the sea. Once there, they probably live in shallow areas where they survive on the grassy vegetation. It will be some 20 years until these babies reach maturity and return to this same beach to lay their eggs. With a life span of hundreds of years, sea turtles are the grandfathers of the sea. As more and more beaches are developed throughout the world, the challenge to preserve these creatures becomes greater and greater. Through the efforts of the turtle protection programs in Akumal and Cozumel, and the good people who donate their time, the turtles are given a better chance of survival.
With additional funding and more involvement, the program could do much more. If you are interested in saving the sea turtles and you would be willing to make a small donation, you can help preserve these magnificent animals. We would be happy to pass along any money to those who are trying to save the sea turtles. Let us know if you would like to help! email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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