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Sargassum & Trash Could Spell The End Of Swimming With Sea Turtles In The Mexican Caribbean

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For nature lovers, one of the most beloved things to do on a vacation to the Mexican Caribbean is to go and swim in the same waters as sea turtles. These beautiful, marine-bound reptiles can be found nesting and then consequently hatching along the coast of the Mayan Riviera, from Cancun down to the small village of Mahahual.

But will this dream-like experience for tourists last? 

Green Sea Turtle Swimming in Akumal, Mexico.

According to recent studies, the amount of sea turtles found nesting along the shores of the Mexican Caribbean town of Mahahual has decreased by 70%. This means that, as a consequence, the amount of turtle eggs that are hatching along these beaches is decreasing dramatically. 

Lorenzo Uicab Díaz, a local biologist, noted in this report that while it was common to find around 100 turtle eggs in a nesting area of about 100 square feet, the count now averages 30 eggs. 

A hawksbill turtle facing the obstacles of sargassum.

The biggest changes to this beach in recent years have been the larger amounts of garbage and sargassum that you’ll find along the coast, so these are to blame for the decrease in nesting turtles. “Unfortunately, many turtles get entangled in sargassum traps in the sea or simply cannot get to the beach area because of the mountains of algae that accumulate,” Diaz noted.

And the higher amounts of trash along the beaches has attracted harmful predators. “Garbage equals stray cats and dogs, as well as mice that are in charge of attacking turtles and their eggs out of hunger. It is a worrying situation since every time we notice fewer turtles returning to these nesting areas,” he continued. So, he has called upon government officials to take action.

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Cleaning up Sargassum, brown seaweed algae, on the beach, Akumal Bay, Mexico.

While a number of local environmental initiatives are currently working together in preparation for the upcoming sargassum season to remove waste from the Mexican Caribbean’s beaches, many urge that the efforts of these organizations aren’t sufficient enough.

They are therefore asking for Mexico’s Environmental Protection agencies (SEMARNAT, for example) to implement prevention measures and address the need for these areas to be protected. Adding more predators for these nests will only hurt the turtle population that the Mexican Caribbean is known for.

“Not only is it to prevent sargassum from reaching the coast where tourists are, but they must also take care of the nesting area,” he said.

cancun workers beach sargassum hotel sea

The Importance Of Nesting Turtles Along The World’s Beaches

If we travelers want to keep swimming with these turtles, the turtles need to have a safe place to nest so that the population can continue to prosper. And for sea turtle populations to grow, it starts with mother turtles traveling to an (ideally) secluded beach to lay their eggs.

The eggs then take about 60 days to hatch, and it’s up to the baby turtles to get themselves to the water just in time to start feeding before they run out of energy. If the beach is filled with bunches of sargassum, however, you can imagine how this natural process for the turtles can become next to impossible. 

baby turtle following the sun walking on the sand to the beach.

An interesting part of this process is that when the newborn turtles use their little baby feet to walk themselves to the ocean, they get the feel of the sand found on that particular beach. And it’s at this same beach where the female turtles will return to lay and bury her eggs. 

Mother turtles come back to nest to their beach of birth in all parts of the world, from Malaysia, the Maldives, and Costa Rica, to Mexico’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts and beyond. 

loggerhead turtles on the sand.

Sea Turtles In The Mexican Caribbean: Information For Travelers

There exist seven species of sea turtle in the world, and all seven can be found nesting along the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean. This includes the green turtle, the loggerhead turtle, the hawksbill, and the unique leatherback turtle. If you’ve swum with turtles in Mexico, it has most likely with a hawksbill turtle, as those are the ones that swim closer to the coastline. 

The beach town of Akumal, just south of Tulum in the Riviera Maya, literally translated as the “Land of turtles” in one of the Mayan languages native to the region. These creatures are a beloved part of the ecosystem.

sargassum in sea ocean

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Barb Besler

Wednesday 22nd of March 2023

So interesting. Love this area! Have come to Playa del Carmen for the past 17 years, Cozumel for the 11 years before that. Hate to see the direction things are going in, but as an expat here for three or four months I am concerned about my role in its deterioration. HELP US, help you!

FYI, I'm old,77. I can't do the ocean any more. I love my pool!