As we welcome in the rainy season Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa, we also welcome back the sea turtles. During the rainy season, sea turtles arrive on our beaches to bury their eggs in the sand and leave them safe from predators. Eggs lay in the sand for 6 to 10 weeks, depending on the breed of sea turtle. Zihuatanejo is fortunate enough to be able to experience releasing baby sea turtles year-round. But some months are better than others; from August to February, baby sea turtles are released almost every day of the week. From March to July, it may only be 1 to 2 days a week. The baby sea turtles are released during sunset on the beautiful beaches all around Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. Three types of sea turtles come to our area to lay their eggs; the black sea turtle, which is also called a green sea turtle, the leatherback sea turtle, and the Oliver Ridley sea turtle distinctive in its own way. Super cool fun fact about sea turtles; it is the temperature of the sand that determines the sex of sea turtles: below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30ºC) is predominately male; above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30ºC) is predominately female. Let’s look at these three types of sea turtles in detail.
Pacific Black Sea Turtle
The Pacific Black Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas agassizii (Linnaeus, 1758), is a member of the Cheloniidae Family of Sea Turtles and is known in Mexico as Tortuga marina Negra. Officially known as the East Pacific green sea turtle, the black sea turtle is smaller and darker than the green sea turtle. The black sea turtle can be found in the eastern tropical Pacific and is not commonly observed in the open ocean. Adult black sea turtles tend to inhabit bays and protected shorelines from Baja, California, all the way down to Chile!
Black sea turtles also have a teardrop-shaped carapace, making their shape different than the oval-shaped green sea turtle. Black sea turtles’ heads are even smaller than the heads of green sea turtles! Black sea turtles tend to be smaller than green turtles but can still weigh up to 300 pounds and reach 4 feet in length! Also, black sea turtles are the only sea turtle known to nest in the Galapagos Islands – most of their nesting occurs in Central America, Mexico, and the Galapagos. Black sea turtles are also even basking in the sun along with the Hawaiian Islands, a characteristic not commonly found in other sea turtle species.
From a conservation perspective, the Pacific Black Sea Turtle is currently considered ENDANGERED primarily due to human exploitation. Present population estimates vary from 5,000 to 10,000 individuals. They have slow growth rates, are slow to reach maturity, and have slow reproductive rates. Historically, colonies of black sea turtles thrived in Mexico and Central America. The fishing industry and illegal harvest of eggs and sea turtles for meat have decimated these populations. Today, they are still caught illegally for food and accidentally in many types of fishing nets. The Hawaiian Islands are known to crawl out of the shallow water and lay along the rocks and sand in the bright sunlight, uncommon sea turtle behavior. This behavior has created a new eco-tourism niche for the Hawaiian Islands. Major efforts are ongoing to protect sea turtles, including the ban of their trade and sale, agreements to help conserve habitats, enhanced public awareness, enhanced scientific focus. Many conservationists consider a separate species designation as important to saving the black sea turtle. It would certainly gain additional protection status – since the black sea turtle is more threatened than the green sea turtle.
Olive ridley Sea turtles
Olive ridley turtles are found throughout the world. The number of olive ridleys is greatly reduced from historical estimates (for example, 10 million olive ridleys in the Pacific Ocean) due to overexploitation for turtle meat and eggs. The biggest threat facing olive ridleys is bycatch in fishing gear and the direct harvest of turtles and eggs.
Olive ridley turtles are found worldwide and listed under the Endangered Species Act. Their breeding colony populations on the Pacific Coast of Mexico are listed as endangered; all others are listed as threatened. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List, there has been a 30 to 50 percent reduction in global population size. Although some nesting populations have increased in the past few years or are currently stable, the overall reduction in some populations is greater than the overall increase in others. In the Pacific, large nesting populations occur in Mexico and Costa Rica. A single arribada nesting beach remains in La Escobilla, Mexico, where an estimated 450,000 turtles nest.
Leatherback Sea Turtles
Having the widest global distribution of all turtle species, leatherbacks are found in the tropic and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans as far north as Alaska and as far south as New Zealand. Unlike many other reptile species, leatherback turtles can maintain warm body temperatures in cold water due to some unique adaptations that allow them to generate and retain body heat, including their large body size, a thick layer of fat, and changing their swimming activity. These turtles also have a specialized blood vessel structure – called a countercurrent exchanger – that allows them to maintain a higher body temperature than the surrounding water. This provides them with a major advantage in the frigid waters.
Leatherbacks spend almost all their time in the ocean, with females only coming to shore to lay eggs. For that reason, from the time they hatch and enter the surf, males will never be out of the water again and are therefore more difficult to study than females. After mating, females come to shore several times during the nesting season, dig a burrow, and typically lay less than 100 eggs each time. The eggs will incubate approximately two months before leatherback hatchlings emerge from the nest and enter the water together to begin their journey toward adulthood.
Leatherback turtles are known to travel incredibly long distances during their lifetimes. In some cases, individuals may travel across entire ocean basins (e.g., the entire Pacific Ocean) after hatching to reach juvenile feeding grounds. A leatherback turtle may cross the ocean several times throughout its lifetime, traveling to and from preferred feeding or nesting sites. Like other marine turtles, leatherback turtles return to the region where they hatched to mate and nest.
While leatherback turtles are known to eat some plant material and other food, their preferred prey, by far, are jellyfishes and other gelatinous animals. They have specialized spikes in their mouths and throat to ensnare this prey and ensure it does not escape after the turtle bites it. When foraging, leatherback turtles are known to dive down to nearly 4,000 feet (1,200 m) – which is deeper than any other turtle and most marine mammals. They can also stay underwater for up to 85 minutes.
Though the leatherback turtle is vulnerable to extinction, its numbers are better than most other sea turtles, which are endangered or worse. The most predominant threats to leatherback sea turtles occur on nesting beaches. Coastal development has reduced the area where they can successfully nest, dogs and other animals often destroy their nests, and people harvest their eggs for food. Naturally, only one or two of thousands of eggs will make it to adulthood. These added anthropogenic pressures make the chance of survival even worse. Adult leatherback sea turtles are sometimes harvested as food, often caught accidentally in fishing gear, and can be involved in vessel strikes. Marine debris also poses a significant threat to these turtles, as they may ingest balloons, plastic bags, and other plastic debris, which they can mistake for their preferred food.
Ixtapa turtle release is the go-to place to experience sea turtle releases. Along with releasing sea turtles, the guides will give you the full lesson on what all sea turtles do. When you book your villa vacation at Pacific vacation, be sure to talk to the staff and schedule a visit to the sea turtle release; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everybody, young and old.