The Yucatán peninsula has many varieties of exotic wildlife including jaguars, parrots, flamingos, whale sharks, anteaters, and more. One of the most amazing sights you can hope to see during your stay here is the nesting of sea turtles, and two months later, the journey to the sea of the newly hatched baby turtles.
Sea turtles’ lifespans are of around 80 years! It takes decades for sea turtles to reach sexual maturity. After mating at sea, adult female sea turtles return to land to nest at night. Some females return to the beach where they hatched. When the female is ready to lay her eggs on the beach, she comes ashore at night (when there are fewer predators around such as birds), and uses her flippers to dig a hole in the sand. She then deposits her eggs in the nest, and afterwards she refills it with sand and smooths it over so it is not visible. She then returns to the ocean, leaving the eggs untended. The turtles hatch 60 days later, and also make their way to the sea at night. They then swim out to sea to begin their own cycle of maturing and reproducing. Sea turtles can continue this cycle until they are 80 years old. The hatchling’s gender depends on the sand temperature. Lighter sands maintain higher temperatures, which decreases incubation time and results in more female hatchlings.
There are only eight species of sea turtles in the world, mostly in danger of extinction. Of those, seven nest in Mexico, and two of those nest in Yucatán: the white turtle and the Carey turtle. The Carey turtle’s multi-colored shell is oval, it is up to 110 cm. (43 in.) long, and weighs up to 110 kilos (242 lb.). It makes up to five nests from April to October, with up to 180 eggs in each nest. The white turtle has an olive green shell, is up to 120 cm. (47 in.) long, and weighs up to 230 kilos (506 lb.). It makes up to three nests from June to October, with up to 150 eggs in each nest.
If you see a female laying eggs and want to watch, be sure to stand behind her and at least 5 meters away, making no noise and being very still. It takes up to an hour for her to lay her eggs and tidy the nest. If you find a nest, do not touch it! You may see her “footprints” coming and going from the sea, which you can gently brush over to help disguise them, taking care not to step on the nest. And if you are lucky enough to see baby turtles heading for the sea, turn off all nearby lights to prevent their disorientation. It is important that the turtles make it to the sea under their own steam, but if you see one going in the wrong direction you can gently move it a bit closer to, and facing, the shore.
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