When you’re a worldschooling family like us, you try and find ways to make learning come to life for your kids. Fortunately, in Mexico, there are plenty of ways to get a hands-on learning experience. Our most recent experience was participating in a turtle release at a turtle sanctuary in Puerto Escondido, with a company called Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido.
My kids are big fans of nature shows like Wild Kratts and Planet Earth. We love watching documentaries about animals. and we talk a lot about how our actions as humans can affect the habitats of the animals in this world. Throughout our travels, we’ve seen orangutans in the jungles of Sumatra, come across bears in the forests of California, and even encountered whales in the oceans of the Pacific.
Seeing animal life in Puerto Escondido
Here in Puerto Escondido, the ocean waters are filled with big fish, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. According to Jaciel “Kiko” Pena, founder of Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido, four of the eight species of sea turtles can be found in Puerto Escondido. This makes the city a very important place for turtle conservation in Mexico.
Baby turtle release is a popular tourist activity in Puerto Escondido. A few companies offer this unique experience. But I chose to go with Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido as they had really positive reviews on TripAdvisor. Also, their philosophy towards conservation really resonated with me.
Understanding the importance of turtle conservation in Mexico
Before going on our Puerto Escondido turtle release experience, the kids and I watched a few YouTube videos about sea turtles. We learned how they rely on an internal compass to come back to the very spot where they were born in order to lay their eggs. They do this even after being decades away from their birthplace. And we learned that out of 100 baby sea turtles that hatch, only 1 will grow up to adulthood. Only 1!
Here in Mexico, turtle egg poaching continues to be a really big problem. Men traditionally believed that consuming them would increase virility. Although the eating of turtle eggs has been banned in Mexico for the most part, they are still sometimes secretly sold at markets. And even non-human threats can contribute to the low survival rates of baby sea turtles. Raccoons love eating turtle eggs, and birds like seagulls and pelicans feed on the baby turtles as they make their way to the ocean. Too much sunshine and heat can also lower the hatching rate of turtle eggs.
With all these obstacles, it’s a miracle that turtles even survive at all! Fortunately, human interventions, like a turtle release, can actually help improve the survival rates of baby turtles. Kiko informed me that the turtles hatched at the turtle sanctuary we visited have a 20% chance of surviving to adulthood, rather than the normal 1% chance. It’s just one small contribution to turtle conservation in Mexico.
What happens at a turtle sanctuary
So what actually happens at a turtle sanctuary? There are several sanctuaries scattered throughout the beaches in Puerto Escondido, at Bacocho, La Barra, La Punta, Palmarito, Playa Delfin, and Chacahua. The turtle sanctuary we visited was at La Barra.
Each night, volunteers patrol the beaches looking for sea turtle nests. They find the nests by following trails left by the mother sea turtles. Nests can have an average of 30 to 100 golf ball sized eggs. When the volunteers find the eggs, they carefully transport them to the turtle sanctuary. There, they will be far more protected from predators and the heat. This increases their chances of successfully hatching.
When the baby turtles hatch, they are ready for the turtle release. Most of the baby turtle release tourist activities happen around sunset, so that tourist can still see the turtles make their way to the ocean. But the majority of the turtle release done by the volunteers happens in the middle of the night. That’s when there are the least amount of predators out and about. This gives the turtles their best chance of survival.
Kiko explained to me that none of the turtle sanctuaries get funding from the Mexican government. Many of them operate purely from donations, or with proceeds from the baby turtle release tourist activities.
The turtle release experience with Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido
Our experience of doing a turtle release in Mexico with Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido was extremely memorable and educational. Kiko, who was super knowledgeable about the animals that live around Puerto Escondido, was an excellent guide. He even picked us up from our Airbnb, and drove us out to the turtle sanctuary at La Barra beach!
When we arrived at the beach, Kiko gave us a quick lesson on sea turtles. He even had the kids do a turtle puzzle to see how big sea turtles can get. At the turtle sanctuary, we saw some of the baby turtles that had hatched that day. They were grouped in little enclosures, so that they could be contained until it was time for the release during sunset. Have a turtle release during sunset, and after, helps ensure the weather isn’t too hot for the turtles.
For the turtle release, we each carried five or six baby turtles in a plastic bowl down to the beach. We released them in the sand, about fifty meters from the waves. Letting the turtles go in the sand is extremely important. This gives the turtles a chance to imprint the scent and texture of the sand, which allows them to remember where to return to when it comes time to lay their eggs.
Making a difference with the baby turtle release
I’m not kidding when I say a baby turtle faces grave dangers as soon as they’re born. During our Puerto Escondido turtle release, we saw seagulls and pelicans swoop down and scoop up a few of the baby turtles that we just released. Right before our eyes! It was so heartbreaking, to say the least.
The volunteers at the sanctuary try their best to scare away the birds. They shout at them, shoot fireworks, and even throw sand. But still, some turtles get captured. Even the turtles that do make it to the water face a long and tough journey ahead of them. In addition to fighting the waves, the turtles also have to fend off water predators from below, as well as the birds from above. It truly is a miracle that a turtle can survive to become the big magnificent creatures that they are!
Mexico turtle release, bioluminescence tour, and more
Turtle release activities are not the only experiences that Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido offers. The company is only a few years old, but it already offers a wide variety of eco-focused experiences for visitors to Puerto Escondido. Some examples include horseback riding in a lagoon, bird watching, sea safari, and even surfing lessons.
One of the experiences we did was the evening bioluminescence tour in the nearby Manialtepec Lagoon. If you’re not familiar with what bioluminescent organisms are, they are creatures that have chemicals in their bodies that cause them to glow. On land, you can find bioluminescence in bugs like glow worms and lightning bugs. In Mexico, at Manialtepec Lagoon, it’s microscopic plankton that are the stars of the bioluminescence tour.
I’m so glad we went with Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido for our Puerto Escondido activities. Their prices are quite affordable for families, and the quality of the tours are top notch! I would absolutely recommend them for any family or traveler coming to Puerto Escondido.
Our role as travelers and tourists
As travelers and tourists, we play a role in making sure our presence is not making a negative impact on the destinations we visit. Too often, tourism is about consumption. We consume activities, and we consume places.
But we have the power to change the trajectory of the travel industry. And we can make it a force for good. Activities like the turtle release offered by Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido, are great examples of how tourist activities can actually make a positive impact. I’m thankful we had the opportunity to share this experience with our kids, and teach them to be good stewards of the world around them.
Have you participated in a turtle release activity during your travels? Share your experiences with me in the comments!
And be sure to check out all the fun experiences offered by Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido for your next trip to Mexico!
Note: My family and I received a hosted experience from Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido. Although we did not pay for our experience, the opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.
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