The Ocean Ambassadors
If one could sit quietly on a
Mexican beach long enough, eventually a sea
turtle would edge by. Of course, there are
beaches where the waiting would be short—minutes
or hours—and others where the waiting
may be longer—days, months or even decades.
But eventually, with time, a sea turtle would
haul her body from the ocean, cross your chosen
expanse of nighttime sand and pass you by on
her way to give life to the beach.
You are among the fortunate. At
the tip of the Baja California peninsula, from
La Paz, around the Cape, and up to Todos Santos,
the chance for a close encounter with one of
these ancient ocean voyagers is good. These
beaches are the nesting place for Olive Ridleys
and the highly endangered Leatherback turtles.
I’ve spent the past 15 years learning
about these animals and we are only beginning
to unravel their mysteries. For example, when
the leatherbacks leave the beaches, they may
travel as far as South America or Asia in search
of their favorite food, jellyfish. The Leatherback
turtle’s nesting season takes place from
November through February. The Olive Ridley
turtles begin nesting in June; their primary
nesting season is June to December.
Sea turtles have migrated the
oceans and come to the beaches to lay eggs for
more than 100 millions years. We are visitors
to their dominion. We haven’t always been
good houseguests. However, there are some simple
things we can do to ease our impact and help
them to survive. First, go to the beach on foot.
Take off your shoes and feel how loose the sand
is. That’s the way the turtles like it.
Vehicles pack down the sand and make it hard
for turtles to dig nests and hard for the babies
to climb out. Second, keep the beaches dark.
Turn lights off, away from the ocean or use
special “turtle-friendly” lighting.
The hatchlings are attracted to the light and
will wander away from the sea towards the glow.
Last, support the local groups working to save
the sea turtles. They are part of a vast network
of dedicated people who have devoted themselves
to our oceans and its inhabitants.
For more information on where
to see Baja’s sea turtles and to support
the groups working to save them, contact Grupo
For info in Mexico, contact:
Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D., is
a scientist, educator, ocean activist and author.
He is currently Director, Pacific Ocean Region,
at the Blue Ocean Institute and a Research Associate
at the California Academy of Sciences. His extensive
research and activities in ocean conservation,
animal migration and sea turtle biology have
been published in numerous books and research
articles as well as in magazines such as National
Geographic, National Wildlife, Newsweek, and
Scientific American. Nichols is the author of
the bilingual children’s book Chelonia:
Return of the Sea Turtle, and works with numerous
programs to share a hopeful message about environmental
protection with young people around the world.
He recently trekked the 1,200-mile California
Coastal Trail from Oregon to Mexico to celebrate
and promote protection of our remaining coastal
wildlands. He and his family live in Davenport,
Wallace J. Nichols
Director, Pacific Ocean Region
Blue Ocean Institute
Post Office Box 324
Davenport, California 95017 USA
The Olive Ridley sea turtle has
an olive-green shell and really powerful jaws.
They like to eat crabs, clams, mussels and shrimp.
They are born on a beach but grow up and live
in the ocean. After eight years in the water,
a female is ready to lay her eggs. She lays
eggs every year, unlike most sea turtles which
nest every two to three years. Once she buries
her eggs she crawls back to the sea and never
returns to her eggs. After 45 days the baby
sea turtles hatch. They are tiny and black and
less than two inches long. They make their mad
dash for their new lives in the ocean. Only
the females will return to land when it is time
for them to lay their eggs.
All seven species of the world’s
sea turtles are in danger of extinction. But
the Olive Ridley is making a comeback in Mexico.
The resurgence is due to measures that officials
in Mexico have taken to protect the turtles.
There are an estimated 1 million Olive Ridleys
in the Pacific nesting population.
The Leatherback sea turtle has
a barrel-shaped shell made of rubbery skin.
Its jaws are more scissor-like than the Olive
Ridley. It likes to eat jellyfish. The Leatherbacks
are the largest of the sea turtles. The largest
leatherback recorded was nearly 10 feet long
and weighed 2,1019 pounds! It is estimated that
there are fewer than 5,000 Leatherbacks in the