TIME TRAVELERS FROM A DISTANT PAST
RETURNING TO MEXICO’S YUCATAN PENINSULA
A long, long time ago, before the Pleistocene Epoch and the dawn of the age of mammals, long before the Cretaceous Period and the time of T-Rex, before the Jurassic Period and the hey days of the giant dinosaurs, sea turtles inhabited our pre-historic seas. Now, like their ancient ancestors, they are making their annual pilgrimage to the shores of Yucatan Peninsula. Soon turtle season will once again be upon us.
In the quiet darkness of night, the huge females laden with eggs will crawl from the sea up the beaches to the place where they, like their ancestors before them, were hatched. With their flippers, slowly the females will excavate a location on the sandy beach to deposit their eggs. Here on Yucatan Peninsula beaches, they will again renew their ancient cycle of life.
The phenomenon of turtle season continues to amaze marine biologists and scientists. Sea turtles have been swimming the tropical seas for over 240 million years. They have managed to survive the catastrophe of the “Chicxulub Meteor” which ended the age of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. They have survived the ice ages, wars, hurricanes, and all other man-made and natural disasters.
Worldwide there are 7 species of sea turtles. All are endangered. Yucatan Peninsula beaches are visited each year by 3 of these: The Hawksbill, Leatherback, and Loggerhead turtles. A mature specimen can weigh between 250 – 350 pounds. The largest shell on record is almost 4 feet long.
Each turtle lays between 80 to 120 eggs in a nest, which is always dug under the cover of darkness. Unfortunately in Mexico, poachers know that because of tourists, turtle shells, turtle meat, and turtle eggs mean money. So they wait during the night for the turtles to crawl on the beaches. As the tired females make their way back to the ocean the poachers descend on their prey killing the mother and taking the unborn babies. Marine turtles have been on the endangered species list for years, and in Mexico they have been protected since 1990.
The baby turtles take between 48 – 74 days to hatch, depending on the species of turtle. It then takes several days of effort for the baby turtles to dig through the sand covering the eggs. They wait for nightfall to emerge when the top layer of sand cools. Once on top of the sand, the baby turtles rush straight to the water. Predators include raccoons, dogs, wild hogs, crabs, birds, and humans. Finally in the water, the hatchlings begin a journey still a mystery to scientists. Even in the water the baby turtles are threatened by large fish and other predators.
YOU CAN HELP. Please don’t shine lights or use flash cameras to photograph the turtles at night. This only scares the females away from their nest when they are the most vulnerable. Protect sea turtle nests on the beaches. Don’t purchase sea turtle eggs, meat, or shells. This only encourages poachers. And please do not use motorized vehicles on the beaches.
Only time will tell if these gentle creatures of the sea can survive the present age of humans. Unless we adjust our use of coastal and offshore areas, one of earth’s oldest rituals may soon be a memory. Help us protect these primitive peaceful visitors from the distant past.
ENJOY MEXICO’S YUCATAN PENINSULA!