Of the world’s seven types of sea turtles, the loggerhead, white, hawksbill and leatherback species especially thrive in warm, Caribbean waters. As home to more than half of the world’s endangered sea-turtle species, the Mexican Caribbean recognized its critical role in ensuring the survival of these impressive species and consequently implemented its revolutionary turtle-protection program back in 1982. The result has been the preservation of thousands of nascent sea turtles every nesting season, which lasts from May through October.
Today, with public interest in wildlife immersion programs on the rise, the state of Quintana Roo has seen plenty of interest from visitors to the region in volunteering to aid various sea-turtle conservation efforts. Some leading area hotels also operate programs that allow a limited number of guests to participate in turtle releases and witness the turtles while in temporary residence on property.
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“More than an attraction, the turtle protection program is a way of life in the Mexican Caribbean. Now that such programs are becoming more popular among travelers, it is our responsibility to innovate the practices while ensuring the program’s longevity and integrity is maintained,” said Dario Flota Ocampo, director of Quintana Roo Tourism Board.
In coastal Akumal—which means “place of turtles” in the Mayan language— the Akumal Ecological Center (CEA) has been operating its Akumal Turtle Camp since 1993. It’s a comprehensive program for those who are serious about involving themselves in conservation efforts, inviting volunteers to take part in a minimum month-long program that begins with in-class education on sea-turtle species identification, monitoring methods and protocols before advancing to participate with teams for in-field research.
Hotels and resorts in the region, many of which are situated on the sands that support this delicate ecosystem, have also taken up the cause. Akumal Bay Beach & Wellness Resort has its own turtle conservation program, supported by the CEA, and actually staffs two biologists—one year-round and another who is engaged exclusively for the turtles’ official nesting season. To date, the resort has released an estimated 10,000 baby turtles.
Palace Resorts also runs a private-sector turtle protection program, managed solely by professionals, such as veterinarians, biologists and environmental engineers. Since its inception in 2006, the resorts have been refuges for over 18,000 nests. The turtle reserve at Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa can accommodate 59 nests, although the hotel also built an annex to house the additional 86 nests that have arrived to date. Fairmont Mayakoa also keeps a sea-turtle protection space on property in addition to maintaining a dedicated pond, which helps preserve a species of freshwater turtles that’s indigenous to Mayakoban canals.
From October 19 – 21, 2019, Tulum will be hosting its sixteenth annual Sea Turtle Festival, which features music, games, educational activities and more. During the festival, Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa will hold daily information sessions and offer activities to support awareness of the need for sea turtle conservation.