PUERTO VALLARTA, WHERE SEA TURTLES AND LUXURY MEET.
Velas Vallarta resort
The Velas Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta likes to show off its green side to guests. The hotel on Marina Vallarta beach and many others are a sea turtle magnet. Many hotels help scientists and volunteers by providing a nursery for turtle eggs during the 45-day hatch period. Guests can participate in turtle releases too.
Before luxury hotels like the Four Seasons Punta Mita and Iberostar Playa Mita popped up, Nayarit’s coast (the area just north of the city of Puerto Vallarta) long welcomed nesting sea turtles, specifically a species called olive ridley, named for its olive greenish color. There are four protected species that lay eggs on this coastline: the Olive Ridley, the green sea turtle, the leatherback, and the hawksbill. The most common is the Olive Ridley, which lays eggs three times a year producing an average of 100 eggs per nest, 80 percent of which survive, though only one in one thousand survives to reproduce.
Between June and December, turtles come to lay their eggs on little-known beaches as well as those in front of luxury hotels. Towns such as Sayulita have programs in which the eggs are retrieved and incubated, and then hatchlings are returned to the ocean. Often visitors can participate in the process. There are lots of resort choices along quiet beaches where you can stay while visiting the turtles.
In the spring of 1992 the founding members of the Grupo Ecológico de la Costa Verde, A.C. (the Group) organized and built the first marine nursery in San Francisco, Nayarit. By June of that year protection of Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtle eggs had begun.
Millions of years before humans arrived in North America, the marine turtle had well established its nesting habitat along the coastal waters of Mexico. The oldest inhabitants of San Francisco, Nayarit, or “San Pancho” as it is commonly called today, can still recall the nights when hundreds of nesting turtles climbed the moonlit beaches to renew the custom of perpetuating their species.
The growing human population, coupled with the changing demographics of the coastal region in the past one hundred years, has dramatically altered the habitat, and thus, the reproductive cycle of the turtles. By 1988, pressures from coastal development, poaching, shrimp fishing, and tourism reduced a population of tens of thousands to less than 200 nesting turtles per year.
The first conservation effort to protect the marine turtle began in the late eighties. It was then that members of the community became concerned that the local marine turtle population may soon face extinction.
In the spring of 1992, the founding members of the Group built the first marine nursery. By June, a large-scale protection of Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtle eggs had begun. In 20 years the population has increased from 200 to 1,170 nests. This year over one million turtles will be released.
According to data from the National Program for the Conservation of Sea Turtles, there were 51 thousand Olive Ridley nests registered in the Mexican Pacific in 2010; about six thousand of these were on the beaches of Nuevo Vallarta. By 2012 that number had reached a record 10 thousand nests.
Besides the Nuevo Vallarta turtle camp, there are another nine camps strung out along the coastline, all of which form part of the Nayarit Turtle Network and offer visitors the opportunity to liberate hatchlings. Some of these liberate an average of 60 thousand turtles, while others can free as many as 250 thousand.