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Conserving Sea Turtles

Volunteer at an Eco-Friendly Resort

Volunteer to free Turtles in Mexico
Volunteers at the turtle camp at Playa Las Tortugas help to release baby sea turtles every night. Once they are released, the sea turtles scramble across the sand and into the ocean.

I planned to spend every minute of my vacation on the beach: relaxing in the sun, learning to surf, watching the sunset, and rescuing baby sea turtles. Playa Las Tortugas, an eco-friendly resort two hours north of Puerto Vallarta, offered the perfect opportunity to combine a relaxing beach vacation with fulfilling work as a volunteer.

The professionally-staffed turtle camp lies along a stretch of remote coastline between Boca Chila and Platanitos on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. As one of the few protected locations worldwide where sea turtles are safe to return, Costa Tortuga is at the forefront of the sea turtle rescue efforts in Mexico.

Most of the sea turtle rescue efforts take place at night, leaving volunteers free to explore the beach or neighboring towns during the day.

My first night, we learned how to release the more than 3,300 baby sea turtles, and then I headed into the dark with other foreign volunteers and local high school students. Each of us carried a box filled with hundreds of baby sea turtles. We stood on the edge of the ocean and watched the baby sea turtles navigate their way toward the open water. Some turtles headed right for the ocean while others required volunteers’ coaxing to find their way.

Fewer than 10 percent of the sea turtles will survive: Without the help of the turtle camp that number would drop to 2 percent. We watched the turtles, wondering which ones would survive and one day return to the same beach to lay their eggs and which would fall prey to the elements, lack of food, and predators.

After every last sea turtle had made its way into the water, we began our next task: patrolling the 11-mile stretch of beach to search for nests. We walked quietly in the dark looking for trails in the sand.

When one of the regular volunteers happened upon a mother turtle laying her eggs, she called quietly to us in Spanish. We watched the mother lovingly cover her eggs in the sand before making her way slowly back toward the ocean.

We gathered the more than 100 eggs and headed back to the turtle camp, where they would be incubated and later released.

Years from now, when I return to Playa Las Tortugas, I’ll wonder how many of the thousands of baby sea turtles I release were hatched from eggs of turtles I released on this vacation.

For More Info

The turtle camp at Playa Las Tortugas depends on volunteers to assist in its conservation activities. Volunteers can assist with various activities including searching for nests, hatching eggs, and releasing baby sea turtles. No experience is necessary.

In addition to sea turtle conservation, Playa Las Tortugas offers numerous other eco-friendly activities. Visitors can work in the organic garden, canoe through a nearby estuary, hike, or participate in a number of water sports, including sea kayaking and surfing. Visit the camp’s website at www.playalastortugas.com or contact Robert Hancock: 800-320-7769 or roberth@playalastortugas.com.

Accommodations: Private villas with kitchenettes are available for rent starting at $149 per night. Volunteers can also opt to stay in a small dormitory at the turtle camp; the accommodations are free, but very basic.

Getting there: Puerto Vallarta International Airport is the closest major airport to Playa Las Tortugas. Upon arrival there are several options for reaching Playa Las Tortugas: Hiring a taxi or renting a car are the most expensive and least practical ways to travel; a better option is arranging to have a shuttle from Playa Las Tortugas greet you at the airport. The $135 fee includes a stop at a supermarket to stock up on food and supplies.

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