You might reasonably assume with all my five-star resort visits, I’ve witnessed or participated in a turtle release program. In the Maldives, I saw turtle nests protected by small fences and signs noting the impending egg hatching but have always missed the birth events.
Just as I headed into my Tequila Blending class at the Four Seasons Punta Mita, I passed a small poster that mentioned Turtle Release at Sunset. I popped back into the gallery and enthusiastically signed us up for the evening release.
It all began in 2011 when a group of turtle biologists convened to discuss what they could do about the continued threat to aquatic turtles. Conservation efforts began in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit along the Pacific Ocean over 20 years ago; working to educate, conserve and protect. The greatest threats to these turtles are poachers who harvest their eggs and meat, marine pollution and fishing nets. These local programs patrol the beaches for poachers and provide safe hatcheries for the eggs to hatch in and include inviting tourists to participate in the release program.
Trailing a massive monsoon type storm that threatened to cancel the release, we awaited the call, the sun broke through the clouds and we rushed to meet our class lecture. We enjoyed an informative lecture with Enrique Alejos, the Resort’s Cultural Concierge and also the ‘father’ of the FS turtle program. He brought in a bin of freshly hatched wriggly turtles. A tip off to my generation, I mentioned these turtles looked just like the little turtles we bought at the County Fair every summer – perhaps you remember having a kidney shaped turtle lagoon, graced by an arching palm tree planted into the island? Small oval tins of flaked turtle food and occasional lettuce or hamburger supplements kept these ‘pets’ healthy and happy.
Enrique explained we should not touch the turtles for several reasons – humans can contract Salmonella from turtles and in the US the FDA banned the sale of the these small pet turtles in 1975 due to Salmonella issues.
Baby turtles, scrambling over each other’s backs, climbing the walls of the bin elicited giggles and shrieks of delight from all of us – there was only one child in our group of five turtle releasers!
We were each given a bin of 10 Olive Ridley Sea Turtles and excitedly carried them to the beach. The sun was setting, the rains encouraged the birds to nest, so few predators loomed nearby, Enrique drew a line in the sand about six feet from the surf. Protective ‘parents’ for a few brief moments, we gently released our turtle babies on the sand, verbally encouraging them to move and explore and return to the sea. On the first day of their life, we wished them long and safe Journeys, knowing they have imprinted with this sand, this sea, they most likely will return to this same location in 15 years to lay a nest of their own.
To say we were misty eyed, is not an exaggeration, it was a moving and educational experience, life continuing on, travel again broadening an experience. Nothing more wondrous than watching these newly hatched turtles scramble to the sea. Through big and small actions, we can all share a part in reducing the threat to these turtles, an intrinsic connection between nature’s well being and our own.
A nest of eggs is called a clutch. • A clutch can contain up to 100 eggs. • The eggs will incubate in the nest for 45 days. • They are born with a little attached food sack that will last them for their first 3 days. • They are omnivores, with their favorite treat being jellyfish. • They travel thousands of miles each year. • They will return to the same location in 15 years to lay a nest of their own. • They can live to be 50 years old.
The Four Seasons Turtle Release generally runs March through December there is a small fee that is completely designated to support the sea turtle conservation. In 2017, almost two million baby turtles where released only in the Banderas Bay area.