The record breaking 2017 Cancun turtle nesting season is coming to a close. At Royal Resorts, a few late green turtles came ashore in late September and early October to lay their eggs and they are the final ones of the year, bringing the tally of nests to 1,063 and 123,222 eggs (October 18). To date, Royal Resorts turtle guardians at The Royal Sands, The Royal Caribbean and The Royal Islander have released 90,538 hatchlings and there are still thousands of eggs to hatch.
Patrolling the beach at The Royal Sands
We joined the Royal Resorts turtle team on patrol at The Royal Sands during the 2017 Cancun turtle nesting season and witnessed their dedication and the passion they share for this ancient creature.
A sudden tropical downpour with flickering lightning and distant grumbles of thunder was long gone and the sky was clear when we reached the beach. It wasn’t long before we met up with the security guards on patrol that night. They went over the 2017 Cancun turtle nesting season rules with us, stressing the importance of keeping quiet and staying still, not using torches or flashes and keeping our distance if we saw a turtle.
They had already seen two turtles digging their nests but both left the beach without laying their eggs. It happens sometimes; something might disturb the turtle – noise, lights or footsteps – or perhaps the humidity, texture or temperature of the sand just doesn’t feel right. They’ll return later to lay their eggs or come back another night.
It wasn’t long before one of the guards signalled with his infrared light that another green turtle had come ashore. We waited patiently, watching intently from a distance of 30 feet and keeping quiet as she dug her nest. Clouds of sand flew up in the air practically covering her as she used her front and hind flippers to make a hollow with a narrow opening resembling the mouth of a jug. All was silent except for the sound of her flippers, the pitter-patter of sand showers and an occasional sigh from the huge marine creature.
When turtles are ready to lay their eggs they go into a trance and this is when biologists and volunteers can approach to take measurements, collect the eggs and move them to the safety of the hatchery. After an hour, the guard whispered that she had gone into a trance and that we could come a little closer. We inched forward through the sand on our elbows and watched her lay 80 precious eggs, the size of a golf ball.
In the dim light we could see her head and her eyes full of ancient wisdom, the famous turtle tears welling up. The tears are secretions from a gland near the eye that regulates the amount of salt in the turtle’s body and protects her eyes from being scratched by gritty sand particles when she is on dry land. The guards identified the species, took measurements and counted the eggs. Then all that remained was to wait for her to stir and begin the slow journey back to the waves. Hopefully next year she would return to lay her eggs in the same place.
Watching her disappear from view, I thought about all the challenges that these beautiful and mysterious creatures face. They have been swimming our oceans for more than 100 million years and yet mankind has threatened their very existence and they are only beginning to make a comeback. The biologists, resort guards and conservation volunteers that patrol the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean every summer may be on the front line but we can all do our part to protect turtles. Reducing our use of harmful plastics, saying no to drinking straws, keeping the beaches clean, not wearing sun cream in the water and working to limit climate change are all ways in which we can help.
The wind was picking up and we strained our eyes towards the sea hoping for signs of an approaching turtle. Racing clouds blotted out the stars and the crescent moon gave little light so that every wave seemed to harbor the telltale hump of a turtle shell. But there were no more arrivals. As we lingered, gazing at the ocean, there was incredible news from the turtle hatchery. The eggs in one of the nests were hatching.
The turtle corral protects the eggs from predators such as crabs, raccoons and sea birds, from the waves and the passage of human feet. The eggs laid by each turtle are carefully moved to the hatchery where they are placed in nests that the guards dig in the exact form of a natural turtle nest. Forty-five to 60 days later, the eggs hatch and the baby turtles are released after dark.
We stared at the moving sand and realized we were about to witness one of nature’s miracles. A tiny flipper emerged and then the head of a baby turtle, soon to be followed by dozens of others. The guard gently brushed away some of the sand and there were turtles everywhere, all on the move, frantically trying to climb out of the nest as instinct called them to their ocean home. You could see the strength already coursing through the bodies of these newborns; they were ready to race across the sand towards the waves.
The surf was so strong that night that the guards decided to wait for a couple of hours before releasing the hatchlings. They are always set free after dark when there are no predators about such as seagulls and frigate birds and barracudas. As we looked at the babies, we said a prayer for them, wishing them Godspeed, each one of us hoping that in 12 to 15 years they would return to lay their own eggs on the beach where they were born.
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Turtle visitors to The Royal Haciendas
The 2017 turtle nesting season at The Royal Haciendas in the Riviera Maya is drawing to a close with a total of six nests. Turtles rarely come ashore on the beach in front of the resort to lay their eggs but every season the resort security guards patrol the shoreline on the lookout for the oceangoing visitors. At the beginning of October, the hatchlings from one of the nests were released to begin life at sea.
Grand 2017 turtle nesting season in Puerto Morelos
It’s also been a great season at Grand Residences, our resort to the south of Puerto Morelos. The resort security team has been watching over 230 nests and releasing the baby turtles to begin life at sea.
Royal Resorts is a pioneer in turtle conservation in Cancun and has been protecting our special ocean-going visitors since 1985. In the last 19 years, 7,976 nests have been protected at the resorts and 685,516 baby turtles released.