The 2017 turtle nesting season at Royal Resorts in Cancun is breaking records. The tally of nests in the corrals at The Royal Sands, The Royal Caribbean and The Royal Islander is 1,044 to date, with 121,278 eggs and our dedicated security team has already released 59,690 baby turtles (September 12). Six turtles have also laid their eggs on the beach in front of The Royal Haciendas in the Riviera Maya and there are 230 nests at Grand Residences to the south of Puerto Morelos. As the nesting season stretches well into September, we expect some late arrival turtles to come ashore to lay their eggs in the weeks to come.
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. This titanic labor is undertaken by our security teams that patrol the beaches every night during the summer, come wind or rain, mosquitoes, heat and humidity. They are in search of the female turtles that struggle ashore to nest and we are all immensely proud of them.
On a breezy night in late August, we caught up with two of these dedicated turtle guardians or tortugueros at The Royal Sands and joined them on patrol. This is what they had to say about their mission and the 2017 turtle nesting season.
The Royal Resorts turtle guardians
Adolfo Y., Head of Security at The Royal Caribbean and The Royal Islander has been with Royal Resorts for 24 years and has been watching over the turtles for the same amount of time. He tells us about the work he is so passionate about.
“Each year before nesting season starts biologists working for the Ecology Department in Cancun City Hall visit Royal Resorts to give us a sea turtle refresher course,” Adolfo says “All our security agents attend, even the old hands, and we learn about techniques for handling turtles, eggs and hatchlings, how to dig the nests in the corrals and take measurements. Finally, we go over nesting season rules to ensure that we know about any changes in the Federal Law concerning sea turtles that we need to enforce when talking to guests. We all have to be trained in order to look after our turtle visitors.
“The biologists patrol the shoreline from Punta Cancun to Punta Nizuc every night from May to October. They use four wheelers and infrared lights and are supported in their work by resort security staff like us. When a turtle comes ashore at Royal Resorts we let the biologists know and take care of it while it lays its eggs, this gives them time to concentrate on the beach in front of vacant lots and in between hotels.
“The first thing we do when we find a turtle is make a note of the species. Hawksbills (carey in Spanish) are the smallest of the four turtle species that nest in the Mexican Caribbean and are easily recognizable by the distinctive markings on their glossy shell. Green turtles (tortuga verde or blanca in Spanish) have white under parts and the loggerhead (caguama) has a broad head. Leatherbacks (tortuga laud) are the rarest and largest visitors and they have a leathery ridged skin, hence their name.
Adolfo says, “We ask any guests on the beach to keep their distance from nesting turtles and to keep quiet so as not to scare them. Sudden movements, lights and noise will frighten them and may cause them to leave the beach without nesting. Sea turtles are protected under Mexican law and touching or harming them is prohibited. The use of flash photography, torches and lights on mobile phones is also forbidden.
The security guards wait until a female turtle has dug her nest, something that can take an hour to an hour and a half and when she enters a trance it is a sign that she is ready to lay her eggs. They crawl through the sand to measure her and wait to collect the eggs. Adolfo explains, “Sometimes turtles go through the entire process of digging a nest and leave the beach without laying their eggs because the sand doesn’t feel right or it is too humid. They’ll return in the nights to come when conditions have improved.“
The 2017 turtle nesting season has been so busy that sometimes the Royal Resorts security teams find several turtles on the beach at a time, and there have been nights with up to 15 and 20. When this happens they watch over one of them and place a sign next to the others to indicate that they are also being taken care of.
When the turtle has finished laying, the eggs are carefully removed from the nest, counted and moved to the turtle nursery or corral further up the beach where they will be safe from predators (crabs, birds, iguanas and raccoons), the passage of human feet and the waves. Guards prepare a nest that must be identical in shape to the nest dug by the female turtle, a wide chamber in the sand with a narrow entrance resembling a jug. The eggs are deposited and a sign put up with the species, date, time and the number of eggs.
Forty-five to 60 days later the eggs hatch and Adolfo tells us, “When we see the baby turtles and release them to begin their lives at sea we feel immense satisfaction that we are helping to conserve an endangered species. We set them free at night when there are no predators about, no birds, animals and fewer fish such as the barracuda that hunt them; this gives them a better chance when they enter the water. It’s a wonderful moment when we see them scuttling across the sand towards the waves. We say it was worth the sacrifice, the sweat, mosquito bites, being covered head to toe with sand every night, all the hard work and the patient hours patrolling the beach. We are happy that our guests, workmates and the Royal Resorts Directors appreciate the work we do.
Turtle nesting is cyclical with a slow year followed by a busy year and the 2017 turtle nesting season has been exceptional. The number of nests has broken records and we still have a couple of months to go,” adds Adolfo.
“Things that stand out during my 24 years as a turtle guardian would be having to move nests and their precious eggs out of harm’s way in polystyrene boxes several times when hurricanes were advancing straight towards Cancun,” Adolfo recalls. They were able to save the nests from the fury of the waves and the turtles began to hatch in a store room and were eventually released when the waters calmed. He adds, “I also remember that about 20 years ago an enormous leatherback turtle came ashore to nest but when she was returning to the water she got stuck. Between 15 to 20 of us helped her on her way, she must have weighed about 500 kilos.
“My message to our members and guests is please respect the turtle rules. You can also help us keep the beach clean, make sure cigarette stubs, plastic bags, ring pulls and beer packaging go in the trash and don’t use straws in your drinks.” Adolfo will be out every night for the rest of the 2017 turtle nesting season on the lookout for turtles, he says, “it is something we are passionate about, we put our hearts into it.”
Juan José G., Security Supervisor at The Royal Sands has been with Royal Resorts for 21 years and in the Security department for 18 years. Eighteen summers patrolling the beach searching for turtles has taught him a thing or two about this ancient species. He explains, “the annual turtle workshop given by the biologists is indispensable, some of our security guards are new and come from rural areas, they may never have seen a turtle before, let alone one that size! They learn how to identify them, the tracks they make in the sand and how to tell when they are entering the egg-laying trance and how to collect the eggs and move them to the corral.” Juan José adds, “During our patrols we sometimes have to help turtles that become stranded to nest and then return to the sea.
“The number of eggs laid by the turtles varies from around 80 to 100 but we have had prolific nesters that lay up to 180 or 200 eggs,” says Juan José. Turtles nest several times during the season.
When the eggs hatch, the security guards try to release the babies the same night if wind and wave conditions permit. “If the eggs hatch in the morning then the tiny creatures are kept in a box filled with cool damp sand to ensure that they do not dehydrate,” Juan José explains. Human contact is kept to a minimum so as not to stress the turtles. During their beach patrols, guards also notify biologists whenever they come across a sea turtle that is fitted with a tracking tag or is injured.
“When I began to protect the turtles 18 years ago, I was surprised at what an amazing experience it was when I saw the first one and I’m happy to say that I still feel the same emotion each year,” says Juan José. “I love telling our members and guests about turtles and when the hatchlings begin to emerge it is an even bigger satisfaction. My message to visitors is if you see a turtle please let us know. Keep quiet and keep your distance of 10 meters (30 feet). Never use your flash to take pictures or shine bright lights.
“We are honored to be part of a global campaign to protect one of the world’s most ancient species,” says Juan José. “We do what we can and the fact that this is a record-breaking year is a great motivation. We feel very proud to watch over the turtles.”
WATCH OUR 2017 TURTLE NESTING SEASON VIDEO
Good 2017 turtle nesting season news from Akumal, the place of turtles
In other 2017 turtle nesting season news from the Riviera Maya, Akumal, which means place of the turtles in Maya, is also seeing an upsurge in the number of turtle nests. To date, 1,006 turtle nests have been registered in Akumal Bay, Half Moon Bay, Jade Bay and Akumal Sur, the four beaches monitored and patrolled by the Akumal Ecology Center (CEA). Of these 812 are green turtle nests and 194 are loggerheads.
Comparing the number of nests to previous years reveals that in 2016 there were 794 nests, 924 in 2015 and 659 in 2014. In 2016, there were 56,310 hatchlings with a survival rate of 88 percent.
(Source: CEA Turtle Season Report)