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Sea turtles in Yucatan show signs of a rebound

Years of work appears to be paying off at several beach sites, but most hatchlings face long odds

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Sea turtle nests in Yucatan are filled with lots of eggs, giving volunteers and rangers reason for hope. Photo: File

Constant vigilance at four Yucatan beaches has paid off.

With the arrival of nesting season, it’s clear that the sea turtle population in the Yucatan has grown significantly, according to the Pronatura Península de Yucatán environmental organization.

Ricardo Ponce Gutiérrez, the local Pronatura president, explained at a press conference that specialists working in Celestun, El Cuyo, Holbox and Las Coloradas have recorded several hundred thousands of eggs, mainly from white and hawksbill turtles.

“In five years they have registered an increase in the arrival of specimens,” said Ponce Gutiérrez.

The organization reported 31,218 white turtle nests, and 10,123 hawksbill nests. In each nest, a turtle deposits up to 150 eggs.

Based on these figures, Pronatura estimates that 2,547,952 young white turtles, and 922,832 young hawksbill turtles, will hatch.

Despite encouraging numbers, the overall statistics are sobering. Only one in a thousand make it to adulthood. Natural predators and other factors — including human mischief — cut most of baby sea turtle life cycles short.

María Andrade Hernández, also of Pronatura, reiterated that the issue of garbage, coastal erosion and on a smaller scale, incidental fishing, as factors that put sea turtles at risk.

“The three problems we face are the loss of habitat due to poorly planned tourism, beach litter and deforestation. At sea, what is happening is pollution and in some areas, bycatch (from fishing boats),” she said.

Modern-day organized efforts to save the sea turtle population are traced to campaigns that began 29 years ago.

“The turtles that we managed to protect in the 1990s are just spawning for the first time,” Andrade Hernández said. It takes up to 50 years after hatching for adult sea turtles to reach sexual maturity and mate. Sea turtles can live as long as a century, although 80 years is thought to be a more common life span.

In Yucatan state, eight turtle camps along 277 kilometers / 172 miles of coastline allow for night-and-day monitoring from volunteers and paid park rangers, who track their population.

Of Mexico’s seven marine turtle species, four make their homes in Yucatan: the hawksbill, white, loggerhead and leatherback.

Adult sea turtles live in the water except when females come ashore to nest and lay eggs up to four times a year starting in April. Delicate turtle eggs incubate for 60 days under the sand — plenty of time for something to go wrong.

Then the babies have to survive the mad and hazardous scramble from the nest to the sea.

Another concern is poachers. Turtles are desired for meat and leather and their eggs are sold as aphrodisiacs . One person was arrested in 2015 when they were caught with hundreds of eggs for sale in the Centro.

With information from See Turtles, Punto Medio

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