Protecting the Endangered
Sea Turtles 

By Susan Dearing

Please click on photos to enlarge.

chow time!Sea turtles are graceful salt-water reptiles, well adapted to the underwater world. With streamlined bodies and flipper-like limbs, they are able to swim long distances in a relatively short time.

When they are active, sea turtles must swim to the surface to breathe every few minutes. When they are resting, they can remain underwater for as long as 2 hours without breathing.

Hatchlings on the beachHow did they become endangered? Although sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean, adult females must return to land in to lay their eggs. It is at this time that the poachers have a field day. Though adept in the marine environment, on land, turtles are slow and easy to capture. All a turtle thief has to do is lay in wait on a beach that is known to be a nesting area. Each turtle can lay up to 500 eggs during a single season, and by being patient, a poacher can have his turtle and the eggs, too. If he's lazy, all he has to do is wait until morning, walk the beaches, and follow the footprints from the ocean to a mound of sand, where the female has laid her eggs.

baby turtle within hours of hatchingThe meat of the animal is eaten, while by-products, such as turtle oil, are used in sun tanning preparations. Turtle eggs are touted in Mexico as an aphrodisiac, and are secretly sold at beachfront restaurants/bars. There is a 5,000 peso fine if a poacher is caught, but rarely is the violator made to pay. His bounty is seized (unfortunately, it's usually too late for the turtle because mama was quickly turned into soup), but oftentimes the eggs can be incubated and hatched.

hatchlings at the sanctuaryThat's where Centro Desarrollo, Productivo, Recreativo y Ecológico (Center for Development, Production, Recreation and Ecology) or CDPRE joins forces with other government agencies. Once the police arrest the poacher and the eggs are seized, CDPRE carefully incubates the eggs until they hatch by reburying them on a protected beach. The new hatchlings are then placed in a succession of salt-water pools and fed and watched. As they grow, they are tagged and transferred to a guarded lagoon, where they learn to hunt their own food. Finally, the turtles are released into the ocean. This process can take up to six years, and no turtle is released until it is capable of fending for itself.

small babies, big oceanScientists believe that nesting female turtles return to the same beach on which they were born. Often sea turtles must travel long distances from their feeding grounds to their nesting beaches. Just exactly how sea turtles find their nesting beaches is unknown, although CDPRE is currently tagging and recording information on various species of turtles being incubated in the sanctuary.

There are six species of turtles protected by the Endangered Species act of 1973. These are the Green Hawksbill, Kemp's Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, and Olive Ridley.

CDPRE is dedicated to educate and promote the protection of reptiles in danger of extinction, including the green iguana, and crocodile. It is also working through legislative reform to preserve Colima's lakes and lagoons, whose mangrove trees are natural habitats for spoonbills, egrets, herons, pelicans, cormorants, and many other water birds.

sanctuary employee with large turtleWhen this writer visited the turtle sanctuary, attendant Armando Hernandez explained that CDPRE receives no funds from the government for any of its programs. The sanctuary exists only through private donations, and the sanctuary will search for people to donate both time and money, and it is very much in need of additional benefactors to keep the program going.
The sanctuary offers camping facilities for large groups or organizations, and special programs for students. For more information, call this cell phone (when calling from Manzanillo): 045-313-107-4069. To visit, take the toll road (cuota) to the town of Cuyutlan (exit to the right just past the toll booth). Follow the signs for the "Tortugario" for 3 km. to the end of the road. The turtle sanctuary is closed Wednesday. Entrance fee is $25 pesos for adults, $20 for children.

An additional activity offered are boat tours of the Cuyutlan Lagoon. If you get there around 10 a.m. and are the first boat out, you will see dozens of water birds, eagles, hawks, turtles, crocs (they're very shy), and occasionally a water snake or boa. Though not connected to the sanctuary, it is a worthwhile trip, and if you bring a bird book and binoculars, you wont be disappointed. Cost is $40 pesos per person. Tips are gratefully accepted.

For a guided tour of the sanctuary and the lagoon, e-mail, or click this link for details, and to book the "Turtle & Iguana Eco-Experience."

Special Turtle Tour

Click here for more photos and info about an ecological event held in September.