The Oaxaca coast is home to three of the seven species of giant sea turtles in the world. Many of these species are endangered but the people here are not going to let them fade quietly into extinction.
Every morning and night, volunteers patrol the beaches looking for sea turtles that have laid their eggs. When they find a nest of eggs, they move them to a protected corral on the beach where they’ll be safe from wild animals and poachers. For the next several months, the volunteers guard the eggs and when they are ready to hatch they invite locals and tourists to be part of the baby turtles’ first steps and help them on their journey to the ocean.
Every day at 5:00pm at Playa Bacocho in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, the volunteers of VivaMar gather up the baby turtles that have hatched that day. Then they gather up the humans who want to attend the “Turtle Liberation” and explain the organization’s mission and the important work they do.
As a participant, you are given a bowl (made out of a gourd) that contains a baby turtle. You are encouraged to give your turtle a name, wish him or her a happy birthday and give plenty of encouragement for their big journey ahead.
Then you stand behind a line on the beach, tip your bowl out, and cheer on your turtle as he makes his way into the waves. The turtles have to make the journey into the surf by themselves while all the humans stay back at a safe distance, but you are encouraged to yell at any seagulls that swoop in or throw sand at any cangrejos (crabs) that get too close to your hatchling.
We named our turtle Nacho and watched anxiously as he made his way down the beach. For one tense moment he dodged two crabs and eventually swam out to sea. His journey has just begun and he has many other dangers to face in the years to come. If all goes well, Nacho the olive ridley sea turtle (tortuga golfina in Spanish) will swim all around the world for the next 50 years.
It’s not possible to tell a turtle’s gender until they mature, so Nacho might actually be a girl! In that case, she’ll come back to this same beach in eight years to lay eggs and hopefully the volunteers at VivaMar will still be there to ensure her babies will have a safe journey back to the sea.
The turtle liberation was a really fun and touching experience that we recommend to anyone visiting Puerto Escondido. It costs 100 pesos (about $5 USD) to participate and it’s a great way to support the important work that VivaMar does.
Buen viaje, Nacho! We’ll see you in eight years!