Lend A Hand

What emerged as a species 110 million years ago, is a green, heart-shaped reptile that lays eggs on land, breathes air, travels thousands of miles in the ocean, starts life as a hatchling on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta and comes back home to lay her eggs? It’s the sea turtle known as the olive ridley.
The olive ridleys are amazing creatures. The females lay about 100 eggs in a hole that they scoop in the sand and then cover up and leave. They do this twice a season. Between 52 and 58 days, the eggs hatch, the babies struggle out of the nest and stumble down the beach to the ocean. If they are not eaten by crabs, gulls, terns, or raccoons on this short journey, they get to the water and swim out to sea.
Males remain in the ocean for the rest of their lives, the females do come back to land again. Between July and November, the sexually mature females follow the Earth’s magnetic field, wave patterns, currents, or just a good memory, and return from their prolonged marine wanderings to the beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. These olive ridley ladies take advantage of a biological survival technique known as mass nesting, or “arribada,” when hundreds or thousands of them trundle up the beaches at the same time to dig their nests, lay their clutches of eggs and return to the ocean. Seven or eight weeks later, hundreds of thousands of baby turtles all hatch and make the wild dash to the sea at the same time. Because there are just so many of them on the beach and in the shallows, they overwhelm their potential predators who have no choice but to let some of them escape. But questions abound. How do the females all synchronize their arrival at the same beach at the same time? Why do they return to the beach of their birth? How do they find their home beach after traveling for such long distances and for such a long time? Why do only two of seven species of sea turtles do this?
The good news about the olive ridley turtles is that the steepness of their decline towards extinction has, in the last twenty years, leveled off. The other good news is that we are fortunate in Puerto Vallarta to have these females come ashore, here and in Nayarit, to lay their eggs at this time of year. We also have several conservation organizations that work to preserve the turtles and their beaches. When the eggs hatch, you and I can go to the beach with a member of one of the conservation groups and help launch the baby turtles on their way to the relative safety of the ocean. These “sunset turtle release parties” are also held at some of the beachside resorts and hotels. We can each take a small action to help preserve one of the wonders of nature.
While we are lucky enough to have them nest here and to know that thousands and thousands of turtle youngsters waddle their way to the waters of the Bay of Banderas, down south in the state of Oaxaca in the municipalities of Santa María Tonameca and Tehuantepec, millions of turtle eggs are laid every year. Unfortunately, tropical storm Narda, which caused so much damage in this region, was terrible news for the turtles there. The biologist Ángel Guillermo González Padilla, the coordinator of turtle camps of the Mexican Turtle Centre, announced last week that eight million eggs had been destroyed by the downpours, winds, and high tides that hit the coast of Oaxaca a couple of weeks ago.
But, like many species of wild things, the olive ridley turtles are classified as “Vulnerable.” That means they “are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.” After 110 million years!! There are several reasons for this, and we are responsible for all of them. The warming climate disrupts the breeding patterns of sea turtles and is destroying the coral reefs where they live; fishing nets abandoned by commercial fisherman cause thousands of turtle deaths every year; people still eat turtles and their eggs and, lastly, harmful building regulations along the coastline allows for the development of commercial and residential development.
If you would like to lend a hand to help the turtles, you can participate in a “sunset turtle release party,” and you can donate to conservation groups.

John Warren on Email
John Warren
John Warren is in charge of Publicity for the International Friendship Club (IFC). His articles describe the programs and charities that IFC supports, the sources of income of IFC and the social experiences, lectures and classes that members can enjoy.
He splits his time between Puerto Vallarta and Lethbridge, Alberta. In the winter months he writes for the IFC, this summer he’s focusing his writing on the environment.