Baby sea turtle release: doing our bit

Filed under: Things to Do - by Louise Hennessy

Baby sea turtle release. Perhaps our favourite experience in the Mexican Caribbean, and certainly one of the most delightful, is the release of a just-been-born baby sea turtle. Strictly speaking, it’s not so much of a “release” as an “assistance” since these adorable babies are never in captivity, and the only things actually kept in confinement are the eggs…

A number of sea turtles approach the shores of Quintana Roo and Yucatan every year, between June and December, to perform their ritual of egg-laying, deep within the soft white sand; leaving these eggs to fend for their selves from then on. The unfortunate thing is that, although the animal food chain naturally requires there to be predators anxious to devour turtle eggs, one of the biggest threats would appear to come in human form, and the percentage of sea turtles which actually manage to survive has dropped from extremely low, to even lower.

Turtle in mexico

Photo credit “Flora, Fauna and Culture of Mexico”

Enter sea turtle conservation projects…

In an effort to give them a least half a chance of survival a number of ecological projects have been set up to identify nests and subsequently safeguard the eggs in closed-off areas on the beach; along with a calculation of when each batch is likely to hatch. Certain hotel chains have their own sea turtle project, and there are sea turtle camps, such as the “campamento tortuguero” (turtle Camp) in Xcacel, set up by “Flora, Fauna and Culture of Mexico” where volunteers remain on site to patrol the area at night and collect eggs.

Enter our humble selves, possibly even more thrilled than the children who were also present on this particular evening…

We were stunned at just how beautiful these tiny turtles looked as they were gathered up into plastic crates to be taken down to the water’s edge. Hundreds of them, simultaneously learning how to move their minute flippers and climbing over each other, as instinct propelled them on.


Foto credit Sancy Santiago

After a friendly demonstration of how to hold these delicate beings without causing them harm, the biologist on site, Gerardo,  had us form one long line, and presented us each with a recently born (literally minutes before) sea turtle. We (obviously) named ours, Natalia and Jaime, and were completely enamoured by their sweet, yet slightly grumpy (especially Jaime) little faces. Natalia, in particular, seemed hyperactive and ready to get going; and on the count of three (led by Gerardo) we all placed our little creatures on the sand and urged them into the water.  To be honest, ours didn’t need any coaxing whatsoever and in a couple of seconds were being helped out by the waves. We were then lucky enough to be able to release 2 more each, aka Tommy, Carlota, Maximiliano and Benoit; and gazed in wonder at their perfect form and eagerness to get swimming. 

There is a mix of nostalgia and a number of unanswerable questions which remain in your mind as you watch all of these tiny defenceless grey dots heading out towards the horizon: how long will they travel for? How many will actually make it? And, how does it feel to be all alone in the vast ocean, fending for yourself indefinitely?

That being said, after having seen the power behind those flippers, if any turtle was going to make it, we would put our money on Natalia…

Don’t hesitate to approach your concierge for information and ideas on turtle release opportunities in the region.

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