The endangered sea turtle is a bit of a family mascot for the Inion Eleven. When our children were young, we snorkeled with the large and graceful creatures in Akumal, Mexico. The breathtaking moments of wonder and awe watching them dance beneath the sea remain one of our greatest life-moments. Since then, we have seen the mother turtle lumber to shore after midnight to lay her eggs. We have followed sea turtle tracks in Cozumel.
In the United States, we volunteered at Padre Island National Seashore to observe sea turtles. There I had a rare opportunity to photograph a sea turtle hatchling release. At that release, a small number of trained volunteers released the hatchlings while the hundreds of cordoned-off, onlookers watched at a distance.
Arriving in Veracruz, Mexico fulfilled our bucket-list dream of actually holding the hatchlings and watching them arrive safely at sea. It was an enchanting moment. We spent the night before at Coco Loco, a dreamy beachfront campground.
Our children played all day in the black powdery sand, fishing and tossing in sand dollars on the Costa Esmeralda (Emerald Coast) . We do not get paid for this shout out, but if you are in a small camper, this is the place to stay. The German owner is personable, funny and an amazing cook.
The Villa Milenaria turtle camp is the pride of Tecolutla and of the whole Emerald Coast. The organization releases over 70,000 turtles every year. One of the best places for enthusiastic tourists to have a hands-on encounter with the turtles is at the eco-friendly Istirincha hotel.
There are beautiful accommodations at Istirincha if your budget allows, but staying is not required for participating in the hatchling release. From June-September at 7pm every evening, hotel personnel release turtle hatchlings. This is free to the public.
The entrance is well-marked from the main road. As soon as you enter the property, your blood pressure will decrease as you take the dirt road under a breathtaking canopy of coconut palms. Be sure to visit the mangroves, see the lagoon and explore the ecological reserve.
Be careful not to step on the hundreds of blue and red crabs. Don’t venture too far into the marsh unless you want a cage-free encounter with a local crocodile. The reserve has one in captivity along with a few birds as well. Migratory birds fly freely throughout.
Participants are each allowed to choose two endangered baby sea turtles. We saw a couple hundred Kemp’s Ridleys (the most critically endangered species) and Green hatchlings ready to be freed.
Our children and about forty other local children each held two velvety-soft sea turtle hatchlings.Their flippers and legs, eager for the sea journey, excitedly wriggled. Though much smaller and more active, their appendages have the feel of a horse’s nose. The children spent time examining and engaging with the sea turtles they tenderly held, stroking their backs. Hands on education at its finest!
On cue, the excited children released and cheered “their” babies out to sea. Surviving females will return to this same beach, in the hopeful future, to lay their eggs. It was important for them to to crawl into the water from the sand; this was an attempt to imprint the habitat on the turtles’ memories.
They were careful not to disturb their turtles’ crawling while protecting them from waiting crabs and birds.
One of Hannah’s turtles was the last to make it to the water. She decided to take her role as sea turtle mama seriously and swam along beside her baby turtle until it disappeared beneath the waves.
Farewell, baby hatchlings. We wish you smooth sailing, lush green sea grass and safety from pollution.
Way to pass the torch, Mexico! A new generation catches the vision of protecting the world’s endangered species.
1. Oils on hands can damage the turtles. Ensure that children wash hands before handling the turtles. In some cases, sea turtles may carry salmonella, so wash their hands thoroughly afterward as well.
2. Bring repellant, but do not use it until after the release. It can harm and even kill the hatchlings. The great mosquito attack does not happen until the turtles are gone anyway.
3. Although the hotel welcomes the public to its coast to participate in the release, support their cause by buying a drink or light meal afterward. We did. While we waited for our meal, the children swam in one of their large pools.
Have you participated in a sea turtle hatchling release?