Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - It's not just tourists that like the beaches of Banderas Bay. Sea turtles love them, too! The Bay of Banderas is the birthplace of thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles, and every summer they return to the beaches on which they were born to lay their eggs.
Created in 1981, the Puerto Vallarta Sea Turtle Conservation and Protection Program has been working with local environmental experts and scientists to help the thousands of baby Olive Ridley sea turtles born on local beaches survive long enough to reach the sea.
Earlier this month, sea turtles began laying their eggs as part of the yearly natural phenomenon that starts in June and lasts through September. Normally the eggs would incubate in the sand, but recreational activities on Puerto Vallarta's beaches make them dangerous places for baby turtles.
In order to protect the sea turtles, professional marine biologists and trained personnel from the city's Department of Environment and Ecology conduct nightly beach patrols in search of turtle nests. When one is found, they carefully gather the eggs and transport them, still in their nests, to the incubation pen located at El Holi Beach.
And, as the sea turtle nesting often takes place just outside the doors of Puerto Vallarta's finest resorts, the local hotel industry has been involved in the protection effort, running marine turtle conservation and protection programs with the support of professional marine biologists and the city's Department of Environment and Ecology department, for the last thirty-seven years.
During the hatching season of July to December (the largest number of hatchings take place in November) these hotels and resorts give tourists the opportunity to learn more about the Olive Ridley, while creating environmental awareness and encouraging others to help save them.
Some invite guests to participate in nightly beach patrols in search of turtle nests, under the guidance of a marine biologist. When a nest is found, participants help gather the eggs and transport them, still in their nests, to sea turtle nurseries for incubation.
Approximately 45 days later, the baby turtles emerge from their eggs. When the baby turtles are ready to be released, participants are invited to name the turtles, wish them luck and set them free. The turtles are returned to the sea at the edge of the resort's beach, where some of them will return a decade later to start the process all over again.
There are also a number of ecological groups that run turtle camps and nurseries in the greater Banderas Bay area, where you can help newborn turtles through the first steps of their lives. Among them are: Campamentos Tortugueros Puerto Vallarta, a 2 kilometer stretch of beach from Playa de Oro to Playa los Tules in the northern part of Puerto Vallarta; and, in the Riviera Nayarit, Grupo Ecologico de la Costa Verde's Marine Turtle Nursery, Platanitos Turtle Camp and Grupo Ecologico de Nayarit's Playa el Naranjo.
During the summer and fall months, travelers can volunteer or go on tours of these nurseries and nesting sites to learn about the fascinating life cycle of sea turtles for just one night or by participating in a two-month-long volunteer project, subject to availability. For more information, visit project-tortuga.org.
Before the development of programs such as these, only 40% of the eggs that were laid along the shores of Banderas Bay survived, but today, thanks to programs such as these, almost 96% of the eggs deposited are incubated successfully.Everyone is invited to come to Puerto Vallarta this summer to witness this wonder of nature, while participating in the conservation of endangered marine turtles. Without a doubt, to be in such close contact with nature is an unforgettable experience for all ages.