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Sea Turtle Season Opens in Los Cabos

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 five of the eight extant sea turtle species nesting on Baja California beaches from July 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?

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 July 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 several very good ones in Los Cabos.

Leading the charge is 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 the non-profit group ASUPMATOMA (Association for the Protection of the Environment and the Marine Turtle in Southern Baja).

Now that nesting season has begun, ASUPMATOMA is offering several programs that allow locals and visitors the opportunity to help protect these magnificent creatures, and the donations required are minimal.

NIGHT PATROL:  July 1 – October 30

Keep the predators at bay, as you spend a night camping and patrolling with local marine biologists. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about sea turtles, and to experience Baja in the wild. All that’s required is a small donation of $25 U.S. per person.

ADOPT A NEST:  July 1 – October 30

Protect an entire family of sea turtles, keep their nest clean, and shepherd them on their most important journey. The photographs and memories will last a lifetime, and ASUPMATOMA also includes an informative kit. This program is available for a donation of $25 U.S. per person.

ADOPT A SEA TURTLE:  September 1 – December 15

Help a sea turtle navigate his or her way to the sea, and in the process receive a certificate with your name and the name of the newest member of your extended family. This life-changing experience is only $20 for adults, $15 for kids 12 and under.

To take part in one of these important programs, contact ASUPMATOMA at asupmatoma.org, visit their Facebook page, or call their office at (624) 143-0269.

 

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About Chris Sands

Chris Sands is the author of Bohemia by the Bay, and writes about wine, golf, and travel for publications such as Baja.com, Los Cabos Guide, Los Cabos Magazine, 10 Best, and USA Today. He is a full-time resident of Cabo San Lucas.

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