Sunday, November 19, 2017

THE SEA TURTLES OF PUERTO VALLARTA AND MEXICO





One of the biggest surprises of living in Puerto Vallarta has been my exposure to the local animal wildlife.  Since Puerto Vallarta has quite a well-deserved reputation for its wild nightlife getting to know and learn about the  non-human wildlife inhabitants has been an unexpected benefit of living in this beautiful part of México. The creatures with which we share the planet I find fascinating. I have also learned a lot from researching some of them in order to create my blog posts which includes the IGUANAS, PELICANS , and DONKEYS .  I unashamedly admit to having had slight “affairs of the heart” with them including even the iguanas!






But nothing has touched me as much as the sea turtles. Maybe it’s because I have held them in my hands within a day or two of their hatching and their release to the great big sea of life.  Whatever the reason, I find them a fascinating creature and I look forward to sharing them with you in this posting.  




Marine turtles are some of the oldest creatures that have ever existed on earth with some 200 million years of evolution. Evidence from Prehistoric times indicate that marine turtles were much larger than their contemporary relatives and measured up to 13 feet in length with a wingspan of up to 16 feet. These were some serious dinosaur-sized turtles!  




The beaches of Mexico are breeding areas for seven of the eight marine species of turtles. The following are the  most common species found in Puerto Vallarta:


  • Olive Ridley turtle, or "Golfina (Lepidochelys olivacea)
  • Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)
  • Green turtle (Chelonia agassizii)
  • Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata)


All 8 species are in danger of extinction and 7 of them come to nest on Mexican beaches. Natural predators have been around for thousands of years, but it is the impact of humans which is affecting their numbers either through hunting, pollution, development on beaches, or entanglement in fishing nets.




Since we are fortunate to live on a beach in Puerto Vallarta on the Bay of Banderas we have the privilege of sharing the environment with the Olive Ridley turtles. There are 12 beaches where Olive Ridley turtles nest around the world according to Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP).


A baby turtle release at sunset is always a special event.

The most important breeding grounds for the Olive Ridley turtle in Mexico are distributed along the western central Pacific Coast including the Sea of Cortez with approximately 200,000 nests per year. The endangered Olive Ridleys, whose numbers worldwide have plummeted in recent decades after mass exploitation, are one of the smallest sea turtles weighing an average of not more than 100 pounds (45 km) and reaching a length on average of not more than 2 feet (65 cm) as adults.




The good news for the Olive Ridley who was struggling to survive as a species as recently as 15 years ago is now making a comeback in México thanks to the protection of both government agencies such as CONANP (The National Commission of Natural Protected Areas), military forces, and private organizations, groups, and their supporters.




The Mexican government notes that egg poaching still occurs, but great strides are taking place to curb this illegal practice where turtles are commonly found nesting. Drones have even been put in place to monitor critical nesting habitats in the state of Oaxaca. Bravo!




Sea turtles travel thousands of miles between feeding and nesting grounds. Once they reach sexual maturity between 8 and 12 years of age the females return to the same beach where they were born in order to lay their own eggs. It appears to be part of their genetic material to return to their place of birth.  I find this simply astounding!    




Once they hatch, the tiny black baby reptile turtles haul themselves to the sand’s surface and painstakingly crawl to the sea. Small enough at birth to fit into a child’s palm, females sea turtles return to land as adults in order to reproduce.  Male sea turtles, however, never return to their place of birth and spend their entire lives swimming the oceans. Studies indicate that for every thousand baby turtle hatchling only one will make it to reproductive adulthood which translates to only one (1) percent!  




I also find it interesting that there is a 8 year period between a turtle’s birth until they reach sexual maturity which are referred to as the “lost years” where very few turtles are seen. It is speculated that since the baby turtles are not yet strong enough to use the ocean currents to get them from the breeding to the feeding grounds that the currents actually carry them far away from known concentration areas. Because these same currents also carry a multitude of organisms that are on the turtle's diet it is suspected that they can feed relatively easily.



Mating between marine turtles occurs principally near the surface of the ocean and close to the nesting beaches or along the migratory routes and is not often observed. After the coupling is over, the partners will usually swim away separately.  




The reproduction season here in Puerto Vallarta on the Bay of Banderas begins in June and ends around December with the highest percentage of nestlings from July to September. Another interesting fact is that the sex of the hatchling isn't determined in advance by a gene, but rather by the temperature during the incubation period. For the Olive Ridley turtle, incubation temperatures around 30° Celsius or 86°Fahrenheit will produce about half males and half females. Temperatures above 30°Celsius or 86°Fahrenheit will produce more females and the opposite occurs at lower temperatures.



Here we have three buckets of baby turtles which will soon face the challenges of the ocean for the first time!

The reproductive cycle of the sea turtle is usually annual, but in some cases turtles may reproduce and nest every 2 or 3 years. It appears that those turtles who travel furthest during migrations reproduce less often than those residing near the nesting sites where they may reproduce almost on an annual basis.



Once the female is ready to lay her eggs she will wait for a quiet time when disturbance is at a minimum. Sea turtles are cold blooded and cannot regulate their body temperature. Because of this they most often choose the night to lay their eggs. Night also offers these turtles better protection from predation and the rainy nights during summer seem to be as good a time as any.  




The quantity of eggs laid by a female turtle is higher on the first nestlings and reduces on the subsequent ones. For example a turtle laying 3 times may produce 130 eggs the first time, 90 eggs the second time, and 60 eggs the third time. Of course, these numbers are just an example and they may also vary according to weather, depredation, disturbances and level of health of that specific turtle. The following photo is of our turtle egg "sanctuary" where they incubate until hatching.


This is one of the turtle "sanctuaries" where the turtle eggs are protected from predators until they hatch.

The egg size is that of a ping pong ball which is perfectly round and quite soft. These soft turtle eggs allows the female to drop them into the nest dug in the sand without cracking them.The incubation period varies relatively from region to region, but here in the Banderas Bay region the incubation period is approximately 40 to 50 days.


Turtle eggs are collected for protection in the "sanctuary" until they hatch.

Each morning during the turtle season before our coffee is brewed my husband and I will go out and look for turtle tracks in the sand. When we see the tracks we know that our beach has been visited during the night and a future generation of turtles have been left behind for incubation and hatching. It always makes us smile.   


Tracts left by the female turtles during the night when they come ashore to deposit and bury their eggs.

The Olive Ridley turtles, as with many other species of marine turtles, encounter numerous threats throughout their lives. Also during the egg stage, the predator list may include animals such as dogs, jaguars, foxes, pigs, ants, and crabs. We are proud to have a rescue and sanctuary program where we live for the sea turtle.  Each morning when there is evidence that eggs have been left behind in nests for incubation they are gently retrieved from the nest and placed in a protected environment until they hatch.


The tiny baby turtles will be released within a day of their hatching.

When they hatch there is an evening ceremony where we participate in their release to the ocean for the beginning of their seagoing lives. It is quite a touching experience and one of which we never grow tire.  The following two photographs are at sunset when the baby turtles are released. Good luck little ones!


Locals and visitors alike participate in releasing the baby turtles before the sun sets.



Good luck little ones!

During the early stages of life, until they reach adulthood, sea turtles are also at the mercy of predators such as birds (including the magnificent frigate birds and pelicans) and fish. Sharks and killer whales are their main natural predators when they reach adulthood if they make it to that stage at all. Being born a sea turtle is quite a challenge and not one that I envy!  





It is said our future lies in the hands of our children. On your next vacation or visit to a sea turtle area I suggest you take yourself and your children to a turtle camp. There you both can learn about these marvelous creatures of the ocean. Participate in a baby turtle release program and get the experience of a lifetime. There is nothing much more touching than holding a baby turtle in your hand, giving it a name and a kiss, wishing it luck on it's tough journey, and watching it make its way to its home: the great big sea of life.  


An experience not to be forgotten regardless of age!  


I am particularly fond of this mural in Puerto Vallarta's Old Town area.

Until next time, wishing you well from the sea turtles in Puerto Vallarta and Mexico. I hope you enjoy this blog posting and please do not hesitate to share it with your family and friends. Saludos,  Laura


PS The following two videos were taken recently when we surprised a turtle while snorkeling and during one of the baby turtle releases.  Simply click on the arrow in order to view the videos.



Unfortunately for this turtle we disturbed her meal while snorkeling and she immediately "flew" away.


Hundreds of tiny new hatchling turtles scramble to the sea and I wish them much luck!













9 comments:

  1. Laura:
    What a fantastic story of the sea turtles! Especially love the photo of you carrying the tub of turtle eggs up to the "sanctuary". When we were there last January, we saw the turtle protection area but now the whole story unveils itself with your beautiful article.
    Thank you so much, we so enjoy your newsletters.
    Our Best,
    Erich and Cecilia

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    1. Thank you so very much for your lovely comments. I hope we will be seeing you again in "sea turtle land" this season. Saludos, Laura

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  2. SO cute! I was just thinking about your blog when CBS showed the Mexico City museum during a halftime bit of the NFL game being played there today! You're such a trend setter :)

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    1. I definitely doubt that I'm a trend setter, but I do love this blogging gig! Abrazos fuertes, Laura

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  3. So nice to hear the locals are taking active measures to protect the hatchling turtles! They are also beautiful creatures where one can find mature sea turtles offshore even in the distant surf line-up far off Waikiki in Oahu, and I have encountered them while surfing there; always fun to see them pop up unexpectedly to the surface. Guillermo

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  4. Yes, the sea turtles definitely make you smile whenever and wherever you encounter them. Mahalo Surfer Dude for your comment.

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  5. Nice post, Laura, and great photos! I love the tortugas, too. :)

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  6. Laura, really nice. I knew I was seeing more than one variety out there, yesterday it was the big green with the large white fins. First one this year that did not immediately run from me, as she was furiously scraping the seabed for food. They are so precious, thank you for your blog! (sharon 601 J)

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  7. You will be missed by the tortugas!

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