Imagine the sight of thousands of 100-pound sea turtles, packed side by side on an expanse of beach stretching for two miles along Mexico’s Pacific coast. It’s not an image that comes easily to mind, considering how endangered these creatures are worldwide (see Good Nature on 9/25/2009 for more on the challenges sea turtles face).
But that’s been exactly the scene in Oaxaca this past week, where Olive Ridley sea turtles are congregating on three isolated beaches to nest. The turtles, which spend most of their lives at sea, come ashore to lay their eggs — in this case, on La Escobilla Beach, currently being protected from poachers by the Mexican Navy.
NPR reported on the turtle comeback, noting that Olive Ridley numbers have rebounded to just under 1 million — a tremendous increase from near-extinction in the late 1980s, when their numbers dropped below 40,000 — but well beneath the 10 million that nested on Mexico’s coast prior to 1950.
Though the turtles’ numbers are improving, they are still profoundly vulnerable to illegal hunting, predation, and changes in weather and climate. The NPR story explains that if the temperature in the sand is 86F during the third week of incubation, half the eggs will be female and half will be male. If the temperature rises 2 degrees, all the hatchlings will be female. If it dips two degrees below that mark, only baby-boy turtles will take to the waves.
To listen to the NPR story, click here.
You can visit La Escobilla Turtle Camp and the Mexican National Turtle Center with Natural Habitat Adventures, to learn all about sea turtle conservation. Click here for details and next season’s dates.