Mexico is the home to many species of turtles, particularly on the Pacific coast where they come to lay their eggs. A staggering six of the seven known world species are located in this country.
Turtle hunting and trade had been a source of income for the community of La Ventanilla until this became illegal twenty years ago. Instead of letting their tracking skills die out, the community shifted their focus on conservation and protection of the turtles. They accomplished this by continuing to track and collect eggs but waited until the babies hatched where tourists along with the guides, would release the baby turtles back into the sea. I went on a few tracking excursions and spoke with guides to get a better understanding of how this was conducted and witnessed some things many people would never had the opportunity to.
The hunt for the eggs usually took place at night, from anywhere between 11pmm to 4am under nightfall when the turtles would come in onto the beach to lay their eggs, the high season is during the summer months. The beach was several miles long, secluded and not without danger..
The sea here is dangerous, with powerfull waves and currents, a tide that was unpredictable and could come and sweep a person out to sea (we even spotted a crocodille amongst the waves on one occasion)or cut a person off from the mainland. What stood between the shore and the saftey of the village was a lagoon full of crocodilles. On top of this the guides had to deal with poachers on a regualr basis, one guide explained to me that it wasnt poachers from nearby villages that you had to be wary of, but poachers who came from other towns and cities who were hostile.
On my first excursion I headed off with a guide in the early hours of the morning to assist with locating and carrying any eggs we found. I watched as the guide pointed out the glowing eyes of nearby crocodilles in the lagoon. As we made our way down the beach we observed fresh human tracks, not turtles, in the sand. After an hour or two of walking we stopped to rest. The beach was beautiful with a clear night with no light or noise pollution.The atmosphere suddenly changed for me as two figures swooped past me and sped up the beach into the dark. The guide didnt seem startled by this, they were local poachers, not starngers so they posed little threat to us, Even so, I was a bit unerved.We did not locate any eggs that night but it was an interesting introduction to the project.
My second night was more successful,a second guide collected me and a group of Mexican veteniary students from our cabins and we made our way up the beach under the darkness. On route our guide stoped us to point out turtle tracks in the sand, walking to the side I watched as he used his stick to search for soft sand, indicating a nest and began to dig once he found loose sand. He called us over to the hole he dug and showed us our first egg. Kindly he stepped back to allow us to experience digging and collecting the eggs for ourselves, and it was a beautiful experience. The eggs themselves were warm and had a very soft shell that required delicate digging and extraction. We continued to walk once they were collected and rested after a few hours. On hour journey back our guide and I chatted, he explained to me that everything he knew about egg was taught to the new generation of trackers by a member of the community who once traded turtles as a source of income.They are now their protectors.