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Sea Turtle Season in Los Cabos

by Chris Sands

Most visitors to Los Cabos know about whale watching season, the period from December through March when gray and humpback whales make their annual migration to breeding grounds off the coast of Baja California. Although its been considerably less publicized, the Capes region also has a sea turtle season, with two of the eight extant sea turtle species nesting on local beaches from June through February. The turtles aren’t nearly as photogenic as the whales, but which is more satisfying: watching a brief but spectacular breaching by a humpback, or participating in a hands-on program to save area sea turtles from extinction?

Mature Olive Ridley females nesting on the beach. Photo by Claudio Giovenzana

Los Cabos isn’t the only nesting ground for Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtles, but female sea turtles generally return to the beach where they themselves were born. They’re sentimental that way. These two species represent both ends of the sea turtle spectrum. Olive Ridleys are the smallest sea turtle, and average about 100 pounds at maturity. Leatherbacks, on the other hand are the largest of the sea turtles, and may be up to 70 inches long, and weigh as much as a ton. A bit of trivia: Leatherbacks are the fastest reptiles on earth (in the water, of course), and one of the deepest divers as well, able to submerge to depths of more than 4,000 feet. Olive Ridley females nest in Los Cabos from June through December, Leatherback females from November through February.

Once sea turtles mature, they have very few predators, but the hatching process is fraught with danger. After a two month incubation process, hatchlings claw their way out of the nest and instinctively edge their way towards the sea. Unfortunately, many are eaten by birds and crabs before they reach the water, and those that do often fall prey to ocean predators or fishing nets. Increasing resort development is also a major problem, as the lighting from hotels and housing developments disorients the fledgling sea turtles, and often leads them in the wrong direction.  As such, hatchling nursery programs have become hugely important in improving sea turtle survival rates, and there are two very good ones in Los Cabos.

Leatherback turtle swimming Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

Turtle monitoring and hatchling release are two of the preservation touchstones at Campamento Tortuguero Don Manuel Orantes, a government sanctioned operation headquartered on a beach near the San José del Cabo wildlife estuary. Large-scale sea turtle preservation efforts are also being made at the 2000 acre San Cristobal Nature Preserve, which extends over several Pacific-side beaches north of Cabo San Lucas. The nature preserve is run by Rene Pinal and his non-profit group ASUPMATOMA (Association for the Protection of the Environment and the Marine Turtle in Southern Baja).

Although increasing development has been a contributing factor in the endangerment of sea turtles, eco-conscious businesses are participating in protection efforts. Guests staying at the Hilton Los Cabos from August through November may sign up for the Sea Turtle Protection Program, and assist with the releasing of baby Olive Ridley sea turtles. Tour groups such as Cabo Outfitters are offering similar programs, generally in conjunction with long-time sea turtle advocates like ASUPMATOMA and Campamento Tortuguero Don Manuel Orantes. Proceeds from the upcoming 3rd Annual SUP Mexico-Mike Doyle Los Cabos Classic Stand UP Paddle Race & Hennessey’s World Paddle Championships, which will take place on Palmilla Beach from November 2nd through the 4th, will help benefit sea turtle conservation and preservation at Don Manuel Orantes.

It’s Sea Turtle Season in Los Cabos.  Ever experienced the joy of watching hatchlings take off to sea?  You can.  Travel to Cabo with Baja.com!       

 

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