Continuing my eco tour through Mexico, I find myself in the heart of Mazunte in the province of Oaxaca where I spent several days playing with it most famous inhabitants: the sea turtles. Though, at first glance, they seem to be in abundance here, these once resilient animals are actually endanger of extinction. And the reason for this is in large part due to one of the most cunning and vicious predator: humans.
There are eight species of sea turtles worldwide. The state of Oaxaca in Mexico has four of those species: the Olive Ridley, the Hawksbill, the Leather Back, and the Black – all of which are either on the threatened or endangered lists.
Traditionally sea turtles were a popular food source. The harvesting of adult turtles for meat, shells, jewelry, and other products reduced the number of nesting turtles and ultimately decreased the production of eggs. On top of that, the harvesting of the remaining eggs for food is still largely practiced. With a decrease in the survival of these eggs, the turtle population has tremendously declined.
In the sleepy beach town of Mazunte, the Mexican government is changing that for Mexico with the creation of the Mexican National Turtle Center (Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga), a government institution that studies sea turtles and works in its conservation, as well as educate visitors and the local population.
The center is large and can basically be described as a compound divided into distinct areas, with different types of turtles in each part. They have guided tours in Spanish and English for approximately $15 USD. I was lucky enough to capture these shots of the turtles who call the center’s large aquarium their home.
After a long day at the turtle center, we decided to go swimming in the hopes of finding some wild sea turtles in the open ocean. Our idea paid off as we spotted one swimming near us, which made us very happy, of course! Though, we didn’t go after it.
On the beach, we found a few turtles as well, like this one just casually resting (below). There’s not a lot of turtles on the beach in the fall. But every year in Mazunte there is a mass migration of sea turtles during the mating season (May – November) called the arribada where hundreds of turtles at the same time come back from the sea to lay thousands of eggs in the sand. When this occurs is rather ambiguous, but usually it is around the August time frame.
Sometimes, however, turtles like to lay eggs on their own. And because there’s not thousands of little turtles everywhere. It appears the mother of this newly born one (below) did just that, and now it is instinctively heading towards the waves to start its long journey to adulthood. In order to avoid disaster with these little ones as well as the adults, please mind your steps.
I’ve always believed that the hallmark of a great society is one which protects those that cannot protect themselves. And with that said, I give a lot of credit to Mexico’s National Turtle Center, where they are doing great work and the turtles seem to live happily. So the next time you are in Mexico, head to Mazunte to play with the native sea turtles and see for yourself why their worth saving.
And then after, grab one of the many hammocks around town, and sleep off the long day with the sound of the waves gently crashing on shore. Life is slow in Mazunte. And for the turtles, this is like their heaven.