Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tortuga.

Loggerhead Turtle
Tortuga is the Spanish word for turtle.

There are seven species of sea turtle in the world, all of which are either threatened or endangered. México is home to six of these species, four of which can be seen off the coast of the Yucatán.

 The local beaches around Akumal, "the place of the turtle" in Mayan, are nesting ground for two of these species - the Loggerhead (Caretta Caretta) and the Green sea turtle (Chelonia Mydas). Nesting season for these turtles is May through October.  Along with its 4.5 kilometers of nesting beaches for the Loggerhead and Green turtles, its bays are a year-round home to juvenile Green turtles, and the coral reef just off shore is feeding ground for migrating Hawksbills.

After mating at sea the female turtle swims to shore to dig a nest for her eggs. It is not unusual to see turtles nesting at night on the beaches of Akumal. Every night, after the sun sets, mother sea turtles can be seeing coming out of the water and ambling slowly up the beach,  They dig their nests on the beach with their flippers, lay their eggs and cover them with sand before crawling back to the water and swimming away. Baby turtles hatch after 50 or 60 days from the nests and struggle to make their way through the sea. From all accounts, it’s a truly spectacular sight which can be seen at most sections of Tulum beach.

About Turtles
Turtles are reptiles, a class of vertebrate animals that has survived for more than 200 million years, through stable periods and times of extreme environmental change. Reptiles evolved from amphibians, an even earlier class of vertebrates that lives on both land and in fresh water. Over time, the reptiles came to dominate the Earth; on land, in fresh water and the seas, and in the air. But it was early in the history of reptiles that turtles, members of the order Chelonia split from the main line of reptilian evolution.

Green Turtle
The origin of chelonians is uncertain, but recognizable turtles are known as far back as the Triassic period, at least 180 million years ago when dinosaurs were becoming the dominant land animals. Although the Triassic turtles did not look very much different from some modern ones, closer examination would have revealed some characteristics absent from turtles living today. For example, some of the earliest known turtles had teeth rather than sharp edged jaws. Much later, towards the end of the Cretaceous period over 65 million years ago, turtles as large as the 3 meter (9 feet 10 inches) Archelon ischyros lived in the shallow sea that covered much of what is now the western United States.

The fossil record and chemical evidence in some rocks show that the Earth underwent some drastic changes about 65 million years ago which resulted in the extinction of many groups of organisms on land and sea, including the dinosaurs. But some groups of turtles survived these changes, and two suborders remain. One includes the side-necked turtles that retract their necks into their shells with a sideways motion. Turtles in the other more diverse suborder, which includes sea turtles, retract their necks straight in. The sea turtles of today belong to two families, the Dermochelyidae, which has a single species, the Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea); and the Cheloniidae, which has two subfamiles, each with two genera and three species. The subfamily Chelonini includes Green turtles (Chelonia mydas), flatback turtles (Chelonia depressa), and Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata). The subfamily Carettini includes Loggerhead turtles (Carette caretta), Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) and Kemp's Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys kempii). Although sea turtles have not changed much for a long time, the slow process of evolution will continue unless we, through neglect, cause them to become extinct.
Source: Oceanic Resource Foundation.
Centro Ecologico Akumal (CEA)


About the CEA

Established in July of 1993,  CEA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the ecologically sustainable development of the Cancun-Tulum corridor. CEA  actively participates in a sea turtle protection program. A restricted and watched hatchery area has been created to better protect some of the nests of eggs, thus producing a higher yield upon hatching.

Every night, as CEA volunteers check out the nesting grounds and for a small donation, they take groups of  up 10 people along with them as they make their nightly rounds.

I really want to go and see the turtles nesting and so I have an email inquiry to CEA to find out if they will be doing a nightly walk on any of the three nights that we will be in Tulum.  Luckily for us, Akumal is just a short 30 minute ride away so there's no problem getting even if we have to go there instead of a beach in Tulum.

There are several guidelines for people wanting to observe the turtles at night.  One of which is no lights so we'll be walking in the dark and the other is no flash photography.  I know I'm going to want to take pictures so I'm going to practice taking photos in sheer darkness.....it's going to be a challenge but one worth the effort!