There’s something to be said about trying to help or at least participate with increasing the survival rate of endangered or nearly extinct species. And while enjoying a magnificent location, what couldn’t you love about doing this?
There is the most beautiful beach (yes, another one) on the north side of the town of Todos Santos. This town and beach are on the Pacific side of Baja, about an hour north of Cabo San Lucas and an hour south of La Paz. And this is where sea turtles return to lay their eggs on the beach. And this is where we visited on Tuesday with our friends from our RV Park.
There is a non-profit organization called Tortugueros Las Playitas with a mission to help the sea turtle population recover. I know the Spanish word for turtle is tortuga, but I don’t know the translation for this organization name, means something maybe like little turtles.
The beach here is wide and long with some houses located far back over the sand dunes so it feels very uninhabited. And the surf breaks right on the shoreline so it’s fun to watch the waves roll right on the beach. You don’t want to get too close or you’ll get washed into the ocean too. You can tell the difference with being on this Pacific side of Baja versus the gulf side from the waves coming in.
During nesting season (October-March), the organization patrols about 20 miles of this beach each night with ATVs looking for fresh nesting sites. Then trained volunteers carefully dig up the eggs and move them to this greenhouse built in the sand on the beach. The volunteers rebury them in the sand within the greenhouse that acts as a sanctuary for the turtle eggs. This greenhouse helps to protect them from predators and keeps the eggs at a cozier temperature.
All sea turtles are categorized as endangered and 3 species use this beach area for laying eggs including the leatherback turtles that are nearer to extinction. We checked the organization’s Facebook page for a couple days and didn’t see any announcements. By Tuesday, we just decided to go for it and see what was happening. It was a hot day inland but we brought jackets because it was breezier and more overcast on the coastline.
The volunteers have all the reburied egg nests labeled by dates in order to know when to expect them to be hatching after about 50 days. This young volunteer in the picture was recently trained to know how to help them come up to the surface of the sand. The day we went, there was only one hatchling. Some days there can be more than a hundred and it just depends on the timing of when the eggs were laid. So our one hatchling was the star of the show for our small audience.
This is the one hatchling, our star of the day. It can take them a couple hours to become more alert and active after digging their way to the surface of the sand. The volunteers put them in these tubs until they wake up more and then they wait until closer to sunset, about 530PM. As we were waiting for sunset, we even saw a whale just off shore surface and spray water from its blowhole, a very cool, unexpected side show!
Apparently, the hatchlings are attracted to the light of the sun and that’s why they are released at sunset. Then they crawl to the west into the ocean following the sunset. It is a really, really long crawl for these little hatchlings, but they eventually get closer to the tide. Then the tide eventually catches them and washes them out to the ocean.
Our volunteer gave our star turtle a little help in getting him closer to the tide since he was still a little sleepy from his cozy time in the sand. We also learned the turtle’s gender is determined by the temperature of the incubating sand. With the warmer greenhouse sand, there will be more females so then more eggs to be laid in the years ahead.
And then he went out into the big, big ocean world where our volunteer told us they try to get onto some kind of floating material for years to hide their outline, eat algae, and grow older and bigger. And maybe after about 10 years, a surviving mama turtle could be back on this same beach to lay more eggs.
Only 5% of turtles hatch and make it to the ocean if not assisted. With this organization, about 70-80% of the hatchlings at least make it into the ocean. The number of turtles now appear to be on the rise.
It was really fun to be a part of this activity, learn about the turtles and this organization, and see their accomplishments in action. We rode with our friends to this beach in the mid-afternoon and then after the release we headed back right away to La Paz trying to limit driving in the dark as much as possible.
You never know what you’ll encounter on the Mexican road in the dark like livestock or the pickup without tail lights, but we returned unscathed back to our RV Park after we stopped in La Paz at a restaurant for dinner. This section of highway was practically a perfect 4 lane road compared to the rest of the highway we’ve been on in Baja. We can’t wait to return to Todos Santos to check out the rest of what this town has to offer.
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