Sea Turtle Festival in Riviera Maya
The Tour de Turtles Migration Marathon, hosted by the Florida-based Sea Turtle Conservancy will take place in the Riviera Maya, including Playa del Carmen, June 21 – 24.
The purpose of the conservation event is to track sea turtles from important nesting sites and identify their migration patterns. Sea Turtle Conservancy workers will attach a satellite tracking device to the mature turtles as they lay eggs on the Riviera Maya beaches, then workers will track the migration movements from the nesting beaches during the next three months. Various hotels sponsor turtles and the turtle that travels the farthest is the “winner” Hotel guests can be involved in the activities and the results
Supporters can meet the contestants, learn about the challenges of their long journeys and follow the progress of their favorite turtles as the satellite sends data on their locations and distances traveled at www.tourdeturtles.org.
Tourism and Turtles
In May and June each year, thousands of sea turtles land on Mexico’s beaches to lay their eggs. In the natural order of things, the eggs would incubate in the sand until hatching 40 or 50 days later. But tourists scrambling for volleyballs and tractors clearing land for new resort towers aren’t compatible with hatchling survival — which even under ideal circumstances is alarmingly low. In addition, adult turtles are prized for their meat, shells, skins and eggs. Since four species nearly became extinct in recent decades, conservation projects throughout the country have been working to protect the vanishing turtles.
Some resorts run extensive programs that send specially trained staff out at night to protect the mother turtle until she returns to the ocean. They then collect the eggs, nests and all, to be taken to a nursery where biologists supervise the incubators and collect research data. When the hatchlings emerge, staff and volunteers take them back to their nesting sites on the beach and release them to find their way to the sea. Nesting season usually runs through September and continues through October in some years.
Guests at these resorts are often invited to participate, usually by escorting the baby turtles safely from their nests to the sea. The Ritz-Carlton Cancún is one of the longest-running and best-known programs. The Mayakoba complex in Playa del Carmen, renowned for its environmental practices, is an important nesting site that draws four species — the Loggerhead, the Green Turtle, the Hawskbill and the Leatherback — to its beaches. It was also the first spot to record an Olive Ridley turtle on the Quintana Roo coast.. The Fairmont Mayakoba’s ecology manager supervises a beach patrol that protects mother turtles who come ashore to lay their eggs, and guests are invited to participate in baby turtle releases from July to October.
The Sea Turtle Conservancy’s map of major nesting sites shows Mexico’s coasts thick with turtles, especially along the central and southern Yucatán coasts, with Playa del Carmen being a centralized city. If you’re heading to any of this area from May to October, be sure to ask your hotel about turtle programs. Many large resorts have their own; smaller hotels may be working with local conservation groups.
Playa, Akumal, and Tulum
On your own, chances of spotting a sea turtle is up to the whims of nature. The closest you’ll come to a guarantee is the main beach at Akumal Bay, famous for the sea turtles that feast in the sea grass pretty much year round. Take a dip, and you might well find turtles gliding along beside you. Akumal is about 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen and north of Tulum.
The guardian of Akumal’s turtle population is the Centro Ecologico Akumal (www.ceakumal.org). From May to July, you can volunteer to join the center’s workers who walk the beach in search of new turtle nests and protect the exhausted mothers as they make their way back to the ocean and retrieve eggs from dangerous places and move them to hatcheries where they can incubate safely. From August to October, you can usher the tiny hatchlings safely back down the beach to begin their lives in the sea. The turtle walks take place Monday through Friday at 9 p.m. and are limited to 10 people; sign up at the center during the day. (You can visit any time of year to see the free displays, and attend presentations on ocean ecology.)
Volunteer to help the Turtles
If you’re crazy for turtles, want to protect them, and have the time, volunteer vacations will give you plenty of face time with adults, babies, or both, depending on the time of year. Almost every international organization that offers volunteer trips in Mexico has at least one turtle program.
For more information about sea turtle conservation efforts, check the online directory at www.seaturtle.org.
Special thanks to former Chronicle travel editor Christine Delsol, the author of “Pauline Frommer’s Cancún & the Yucatán” and a regular contributor to “Frommer’s Mexico” and “Frommer’s Cancún & the Yucatán.”
Stay with us in Playa del Carmen while participating in the Tour de Turtles and enjoy our beautiful beaches and fine dining in Playa del Carmen. Contact Laura at email@example.com for rates and availability at El Taj Ocean, Porto Playa, Maya Villa, El Taj Beach, and Villas Sacbe, or call 630-664-3904. All properties are 4 & 5 star, right on or just off the beach, and offer transportation to Turtle activities.