by Martina Dobesh
Dive into crystal blue water by day and help protect the nesting Leatherback turtles by night. Pair vacation with the deep satisfaction of helping to protect and conserve an endangered species — like sea turtles! What other kind of vacation promises you the opportunity to help turtle populations recover, participate in marine life research, and experience the Mexican culture. This is enjoying Baja at its best. It is a marriage of vacation and volunteerism brought to you by La Sirena Eco Adventures and the Tortugueros Las Playitas. Many past program participants agree: It is an eco-adventure of a lifetime — saving the leatherback turtles in Todos Santos. And you can do it, too!
How did this project begin? In 2010 a group of dedicated people came together to form the Tortugueros Las Playitas, loosely translated the Turtlers of the Beach. Their clear intention was to save the Leatherback babies as they are considered a Critically Endangered Species. The Tortugueros do this by patrolling the beaches around Todos Santos, November through May. Hatchings are released the day they hatch and releases happen for several months. Eggs are then brought to the “nursery” where the sand is warmer. Also important is public awareness and educating children to become the future stewards of their beaches.
What do volunteer tortugueros do? A volunteer has the opportunity to observe sea turtles nesting, rescue and transfer the eggs to the innovative Incubation Greenhouse, and receives the heartfelt thrill when releasing the hatchlings into the sea at sunset. Volunteers patrol on ATVs at night and relocate turtle nests. A Sea Turtle Volunteer can choose what he or she is best suited for: Spending the days guarding the Turtle Sanctuary; checking for hatchlings emerging, and document temperature readings. Or for the mathematically inclined, staying indoors and recording nesting data. The added perks for volunteering will give everyone the opportunity to practice Spanish with the bilingual staff, and enjoy traditional Mexican food with other Volunteers.
The non-profit organization has the technology right now to save the Leatherback from extinction. The turtle “greenhouse” is constructed similar to the typical greenhouse for plants. The Leatherback nests are moved inside where temperatures are stabilized and the eggs are monitored until the hatchlings emerge. Without this technology, Leatherback eggs would not survive as the Todos Santos beach sand has lower temperatures not allowing the eggs to develop naturally.
Why do the Leatherbacks need our help? The Pacific Leatherback population has decreased by 90 percent in the last two decades. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommends intervention if there is to be any hope for the survival of this species. Research shows that Leatherbacks are moving north. Co-founder of the group, Francesca Dvorak says, “The females that are nesting in the Todos Santos area were either born here in record hot years, or are moving north from the warmer Los Cabos regions due to loss of nesting habitat.” This places additional strain on the already fragile species so critical to the food chain.
Why is the Leatherback a critical element of the food chain? The adult Leatherback feeds primarily on jellyfish. With so few Leatherbacks left in the Pacific, there is currently a “jellyfish explosion consuming massive amounts of baby fish and fish eggs.” So the next time a fishermen complains how poor the fishing is you can share the solution.
How can I help? You don’t have to go on vacation to help. Spread the word, educate and contribute time and resources locally. This season as the Leatherbacks return in October the biggest need is the care and maintenance of the ATVs. Without the ATV for patrolling, the project cannot operate. You can also consider Adopting-A-Hatchling; find out more by visiting www.todostortugueros.org/adopt_a_sea_turtle_hatchling.html
And then you get to enjoy vacation activities: Your off time from the Turtle Project allows you to visit Todos Santos to take in the restaurants, visit art galleries, swim, snorkel, hike to the old port of Todos Santos or just read and relax!
La Sirena Eco Adventures sponsors the Leatherback project by providing Biologist housing and the use of their ATV. Make reservations by emailing lasirena_ts@gmail or email@example.com or call 612.145.0353 or magic jack 213.265.9943
Tortugueros Las Playitas A.C. is a non-profit organization, all programs are possible through generous donations and dedicated volunteers.
It’s the Eco-Adventure of a Lifetime: Saving the Leatherback Turtles! So want to come out of your shell and be part of the solution…and have a great vacation, too? Visit Baja.com!
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