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In a region like Mexico where vast areas of pristine nature still exist, the effects of pollution, poaching, and human encroachment are hard to ignore. A recent example of environmental contamination is the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, resulting in the devastation of local sea turtles and marine life near the Gulf Coast states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, USA.
Fortunately, this threat has not extended to the Caribbean Sea or to sea turtles and other marine life in the Yucatan Peninsula, and is not expected to do so. (Concerns about oil reaching the Yucatan Peninsula, where Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the Riviera Maya are located, are being investigated by local authorities, and proactive measures are being considered for future implementation if necessary.)
Sea Turtle Preservation
Recent environmental crises have heightened public awareness of nature conservation, but endangered sea turtles have been protected by federal law in Mexico since 1990. Sea turtle preservation in this part of the world is supported by various government and private organizations, individuals, and volunteers with a passion for preserving nature's ecosystems.
Three endangered species of sea turtles commonly found in the Yucatan Peninsula are the loggerhead, hawksbill, and green sea turtles (less commonly, the Kemp's Ridley and leatherback sea turtles). Hard to imagine, but these timid, massive creatures float effortlessly in water, yet are slow and awkward on land, where they must spawn their young and are most vulnerable to poachers who hunt for their meat, shells, and eggs.
Importance of Nature Reserves
Nature conservation is essential for maintaining the ecosystems that provide mankind with food, clean water, and fuel. Look at one example of the negative chain reaction that environmental climate change can have on nature:
Sea turtles need beaches and dunes to nest and lay their eggs. Since sand does not absorb nutrients well, the unhatched eggs and hatched egg shells provide nutrients to dune vegetation for improved plant growth. Stronger plants have larger roots, which hold the sand in place and prevent erosion (especially important for Cancun's newly restored beaches -- an $80 million government investment).
There are several sea turtle preserves and protected nesting sites throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, three of which are near Cancun and accessible to tourists. Sea turtle sanctuaries allow travelers to learn about sea turtles while simultaneously protecting them.
May through September is sea turtle nesting season, where they can be observed safely at:
The Tortugranja (turtle farm) on the island of Isla Mujeres is just a 30-minute ferry ride offshore from Cancun's port. The turtle farm not only shelters nesting turtles but also captures them at sea, temporarily protecting them while mating. It has rescued up to six species of sea turtles, turtle eggs, and hatchlings, and has invited travelers to watch their release into the sea at maturation. Want more information? Send an email.
Open daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm offers a one-hour tour about sea turtle behavior. Located at the southernmost end of the island at Carretera Sac Bajo #5, it is best reached by taxi.
Akumal Bay is a small but delightful, oceanfront town with a Sea Turtle Sanctuary and is only about 30 minutes south of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The sanctuary offers a 50-minute sea turtle snorkeling tour along the coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea where tourists can swim with the loggerhead turtles in their natural habitat. The Centro Ecológico Akumal offers the opportunity to adopt a sea turtle.
After the snorkeling tour, a buffet lunch and open bar are provided on Akumal's long, white sand beaches for a two-hour break. The tour begins with either a ferry ride from Cozumel at 9:30 a.m. or a meetup at Señor Frog's in Playa del Carmen at 10:30 a.m.
Xcaret eco park sets up sea turtle shelters during nesting season while representatives search large stretches of coastline for turtle eggs and hatchlings, bringing them to the shelter. When the eggs hatch, they become part of the park's Aquarium Conservation Program where they can mature safely.
After a year, the young turtles became part of Xcaret's Environmental Education Program where tourists can observe them and learn about sea turtle behavior and preservation. Travelers are then invited to witness their release into the sea. Seasonal eco tours are offered at Xcaret's turtle shelters.
Sea turtles are an important part of the ecosystem that mankind relies on for survival. When nature suffers, all aspects of life do. Sea turtles have existed for about 150 million years and can teach us what is needed for a healthy environment by learning about their extended survival. When traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula, consider discovering how these incredible creatures are being saved from extinction.
Christina Famiglietti is a professional writer and editor with experience in various industries. Her most recent passion is the Mexican Caribbean, where she lives and is inspired to write about her beloved Mexico — its nature, culture, travel, and tourism.