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July 18, 2013

Reef Supports WILDCOAST Conservation Activities in Oaxaca

Reef Volunteers and WILDCOAST Carry Out Sea Turtle Monitoring on Oaxaca Coast.
Andres Mariano Alcantara of the Morro Ayuta monitoring station leading the monitoring survey

In 2011, WILDCOAST initiated efforts to protect the globally unique ecosystems and wildlife of the Oaxaca coast. The Pacific’s steamy Gulf of Tehuantapec meets the southern Mexican state on enormous sandy beaches, idyllic bays, rocky points and impenetrable dry tropical forest. Although much of its shoreline remains untouched, the threat of illegal sea turtle trade and habitat destruction is rampant.   

In the thick velvet air and tepid sea, everything is alive. In the daytime, an incredible variety birds fill the sky and forest canopy. It is not uncommon to see a flock of Roseate Spoonbills, one of Oaxaca’s most interesting bird species with its pink plumes, enormous size and flat beak, fly overhead en route to their wetland home somewhere down the coast. Giant terns strike the water with lethal accuracy and fly away with living catch. Orange-Fronted Parakeets amass in the foliage in a circus of sounds and activity.

Once the sun sets, a new wildlife emerges. Darting bats and gecko chirps are nightly occurrences. Mosquitos swarm ankles and ears. The bushes rustle with curious and nocturnal wildlife. But an even more interesting creature shows itself once darkness unfolds. It emerges from the sea and slowly makes its way up the isolated sloped beaches. It digs a nest and lays sometimes over 100 eggs, then returns to the sea for another year. They have been doing this since the age of dinosaurs.

The Oaxaca coast is home to several of the most important olive ridley and leatherback sea turtle nesting beaches in the world. During the arribada season, hundreds of thousands of these prehistoric and endangered creatures nest on the beaches of Morro Ayuta, Barra de la Cruz, and others. Unfortunately their future is at risk. In long standing cultural tradition of sea turtle meat and egg consumption, they have always been important to local communities for much more than their beauty. But as human population climbs and the black market for eggs continues (sea turtle fisheries and trade has been illegal in Mexico since 1990), over consumption is further endangering all sea turtle species. On top of human consumption, the turtles and eggs encounter a number of other natural and unnatural obstacles, such as sand moisture imbalances, scarab beetles and feral dogs that also dig up nests.

WILDCOAST has carried out a number of projects over the years to combat these issues. We have launched a massive media campaigns across Mexico to reduce the popular consumption of sea turtle eggs. We actively support the Mexican Sea Turtle Center in Mazunte, Oaxaca to help them monitor nestings, rehabilitate injured turtles and educate the public.

But the most fulfilling effort, and the most difficult, is getting into the field and helping the turtles directly on their path to and from the sea. Last week, WILDCOAST and volunteers from Reef joined biologists at the Morro Ayuta monitoring station to help with their nightly monitoring missions. In 5.5 hours of monitoring the twelve miles of beach, which began at midnight, five nesting turtles and over 400 eggs were documented. The eggs were relocated to avoid the poachers which were invisible but very present. Although we came across several nests already dug up, we’d like to think that in 45 days when these eggs hatch there will be 400 juvenile olive ridley’s scurrying to the water to begin their lives at sea.

WILDCOAST would like to thank Reef, CONANP, Memo and Andres Mariano Alcantara for making the trip a possibility.