One of the goals of this blog is to introduce U.S. readers to the wonderful complexity of life in Mexico. If you have visited there, but limited your trip to a beach resort, where you drank tequila and enjoyed the white sand and crystal blue water, you’ve missed out. There is so much to learn about the history and culture of Mexico through activities such as exploring ancient ruins, attending festivals and cultural events and walking through one of the thousands of museums. And then there’s the enormous variety of marine wildlife that live in the oceans surrounding Mexico, one of the most interesting of which is the giant sea turtle.
It’s incredible to think that every species of sea turtle in the world (with the exception of a single one that calls Australia home) nests on the beaches of Mexico. Every year between the months of May and October, sea turtles return to the same beaches on which they were hatched to lay their own eggs. Thus earning the country the reputation of being the sea turtle capital of the world. Unfortunately all species of giant sea turtles are on the endangered list due to habitat encroachment, overfishing, pollution and climate change. However, in 2013, Mexico passed an unprecedented law that offers a whole slate of new protections to these gentle giants and their habitats.
The new regulation forbids the removal of any native vegetation from nesting habitats. The coastal plants serve a dual purpose; they help prevent beach erosion and protect the specific species of turtles, like the Hawksbill sea turtle, who prefer to crawl up the sand until they reach vegetation before building their nest. It also prohibits artificial light in the area. After hatching, the babies are biologically driven to look for the shine of the ocean’s surface to find their way into it. Lights from nearby homes or hotels can make them head in the wrong direction.
Another threat to the hatchlings that was banned is a practice that has been used by local hotels, in which they offer specials to tourists where they can take part in releasing the hatchlings into the sea. The issue is that the hotels kept the babies in confinement for a long time while they waited for enough people to sign up and pay for the privilege. Hatchlings need to get to the ocean as soon as possible after birth or they become weakened and the survival rate goes down. As of 2013, this practice is forbidden and hatchlings have to be released immediately.
All of the protections put in place were long overdue and are aimed at protecting the beaches, nesting grounds, mother turtles and hatchlings. However, should you visit Mexico in the next few months, you can still safely and respectfully view the magnificent ritual of turtle nesting and even volunteer to help protect the eggs and make sure the babies make it safely to the sea.