Protecting the Endangered
By Susan Dearing
Please click on photos to enlarge.
When they are active, sea turtles must swim to the surface to breathe every few minutes. When they are resting, they can remain underwater for as long as 2 hours without breathing.
How did they become endangered? Although sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean, adult females must return to land in to lay their eggs. It is at this time that the poachers have a field day. Though adept in the marine environment, on land, turtles are slow and easy to capture. All a turtle thief has to do is lay in wait on a beach that is known to be a nesting area. Each turtle can lay up to 500 eggs during a single season, and by being patient, a poacher can have his turtle and the eggs, too. If he's lazy, all he has to do is wait until morning, walk the beaches, and follow the footprints from the ocean to a mound of sand, where the female has laid her eggs.
The meat of the animal is eaten, while by-products, such as turtle oil, are used in sun tanning preparations. Turtle eggs are touted in Mexico as an aphrodisiac, and are secretly sold at beachfront restaurants/bars. There is a 5,000 peso fine if a poacher is caught, but rarely is the violator made to pay. His bounty is seized (unfortunately, it's usually too late for the turtle because mama was quickly turned into soup), but oftentimes the eggs can be incubated and hatched.
That's where Centro Desarrollo, Productivo, Recreativo y Ecológico (Center for Development, Production, Recreation and Ecology) or CDPRE joins forces with other government agencies. Once the police arrest the poacher and the eggs are seized, CDPRE carefully incubates the eggs until they hatch by reburying them on a protected beach. The new hatchlings are then placed in a succession of salt-water pools and fed and watched. As they grow, they are tagged and transferred to a guarded lagoon, where they learn to hunt their own food. Finally, the turtles are released into the ocean. This process can take up to six years, and no turtle is released until it is capable of fending for itself.
Scientists believe that nesting female turtles return to the same beach on which they were born. Often sea turtles must travel long distances from their feeding grounds to their nesting beaches. Just exactly how sea turtles find their nesting beaches is unknown, although CDPRE is currently tagging and recording information on various species of turtles being incubated in the sanctuary.
There are six species of turtles protected by the Endangered Species act of 1973. These are the Green Hawksbill, Kemp's Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, and Olive Ridley.
CDPRE is dedicated to educate and promote the protection of reptiles in danger of extinction, including the green iguana, and crocodile. It is also working through legislative reform to preserve Colima's lakes and lagoons, whose mangrove trees are natural habitats for spoonbills, egrets, herons, pelicans, cormorants, and many other water birds.
this writer visited the turtle sanctuary, attendant Armando Hernandez explained that CDPRE
receives no funds from the government for any of its programs.
The sanctuary exists only through
private donations, and the sanctuary will
search for people to
donate both time and money, and it is very much in need of additional
benefactors to keep the program going.
An additional activity offered are boat tours of the Cuyutlan Lagoon. If you get there around 10 a.m. and are the first boat out, you will see dozens of water birds, eagles, hawks, turtles, crocs (they're very shy), and occasionally a water snake or boa. Though not connected to the sanctuary, it is a worthwhile trip, and if you bring a bird book and binoculars, you wont be disappointed. Cost is $40 pesos per person. Tips are gratefully accepted.
Special Turtle Tour
Click here for more photos and info about an ecological event held in September.