Turtles are important to ecosystem’s health and play a vital role in coral reef conservation. All marine turtles are either endangered or critically endangered due to overexploitation and habitat degradation. A major issue that young turtles face is human activities on or around the beaches where sea turtles nest. When turtles are looking for places to nest, they are easily scared off and distracted by non-natural light sources, trash or human presence. Later on when the turtles hatch, the hatchling will get disoriented by these same factors.
Sea turtle populations have decreased dramatically over the last decades and their future in the seas is unsure. Therefore, this initiative aims to record and study their mating and nesting habits.
At Pez Maya, staff and volunteers have recorded sea turtles mating and they are hoping to see them lay their eggs on their base beach. In order to record the data of these nests, the initiative consists in that every morning a staff member takes a volunteer and patrol the beach at sunrise. Each species makes its own tracks on the beach, as well as their own preferred nesting method. The Green Turtle, for instance, has symmetrical tracks because of the way that it walks on the sand. Other turtles such as the Hawksbill and Loggerhead have asymmetrical patterns. A cheat sheet has been developed by staff members, this sheet includes pictures of the different tracks and nests so that volunteers can easily mark down in the data which species of turtles each track or nest is
Last year staff and volunteers saw different hatchlings around base crawling to the sea. In one instance, a hatchling went all the way up the beach, to the communal area because it was attracted by the main light. Volunteers quickly turned the light off and led the turtles in the right direction. This year, field staff are focusing more on light use at night in order to prevent this from happening again. The lights are being turned off earlier at the base, as well volunteers are encouraged to use red light flashlights while walking on the beach at night.
During the weekly beach cleans volunteers have started to remove large logs and natural objects as well as trash to make the beaches more attractive for the turtles when they are looking for a good place to nest. Turtles are very fickle and even the smallest obstruction can make them turn around and decide to not nest there.
By restarting this project, Staff teaches the volunteers valuable lessons about marine turtle conservation while giving them hands on experience in the field. GVI Staff and volunteers are looking forward to finding the first nests and tracks of the season!