40,000 - 60,000 SEA TURTLE HATCHLINGS PROTECTED AND RELEASED EACH YEAR
How would you like a job that started at 8am and finished at 6am six days a week, then on your day off you did three shifts 9-11pm, Midnight-2am and 4-6am. Actually he had from 5pm-9pm off, but he had to travel an hour and a half to his night job.
That is the schedule that Dr. Marcelino Lopez, a clinical veterinarian at the Mexican Turtle Center keeps. I forgot to mention that one of those days he travels 5 hours to the vet school, teaches a
course in wildlife medicine and surgery, then hops on the bus and travels the 5 hours back to
his home so he can be at The Turtle Center at 8am. It is during those 10 hours of travel that he catches up on his much needed sleep.
His efforts in support of wildlife conservation and preservation are nothing short of incredible. In addition to his duties as a clinical veterinarian at The Turtle Center and his teaching duties, he manages a free range inguana hatchery, acts as the town ecology officer and runs a sea turtle rescue and preservation preserve which is the actual topic of this article.
Dr. Lopez arrived in the Mazunte area in the mid 1980s, before electricity had arrived and before The Turtle Center was even conceived. He was a faculty member of the University of Oaxaca Veterinary School and came to the area to monitor sea turtle populations and to assess the impact of the sea turtle capture and harvest on their conservation and welfare. It was his research along with that of other biologists studying the declining populations that convinced the Mexican federal government that it had to step in and ban sea turtle harvest and slaughter and also the collection of the turtle eggs for public consumption. In 1990-1991 the current turtle center was built on the site of the Mazunte turtle slaughter house.
The subject of this article is an enormous project of Dr Lopez’s, the Campamento Tortuguero Palmarito, incorporated in the US as the Palmarito Sea Turtle Rescue Inc., a 501c3 organization. The project was started in the early 2000’s as a part time effort and became full time in 2005. It costs $15,000 - $20,000 to run the site for the nesting season (Oct-May).
The Palmarito Campamento Tortuguero (Palmarito Sea Turtle Rescue) is basically a small shelter for the workers and ATVs with multiple large beach corrals which serve to protect the incubating turtle nests. Dr. Lopez and his full time employee, Mario Cruz, patrol the 22km (almost 14 miles) Palmarito Beach in 4-wheelers. They make a complete patrol of the beach (44km round trip) three-four times each night at 8pm, 11pm, 2am and 4am. During those patrols they will encounter Olive Ridley, Green (Black subspecies), and Leatherback sea turtles coming ashore to nest. They will wait for them to lay their eggs and leave, then will collect them and bring them back to the corrals where they will be placed in a nest within the corrals as if they had been laid there by the sea turtles themselves. Forty-five to sixty days later the eggs will hatch and the hatchlings will work their way to the surface. The live hatchlings will be collected and placed in a large bucket. They will be kept there until sunset when they will be released. They are released at sunset or after so the predatory birds will not eat them as they make their way to the sea.
If these nests were not collected by Dr. Lopez and his assistants, many of them would fall into the hands of poachers who are always patrolling the beaches trying to get turtle eggs to sell on the black market. So the preserve not only protects the eggs from poachers and dogs, but also protects them from other predators such as birds and crabs, greatly increasing their chances of survival to adulthood.
Please help us save sea turtles by donating to:
Palmarito Sea Turtle Rescue Inc.
6 Mahlert Ct.
Auburn, MA 01501
We are currently fundraising to support the everyday operation and to support an effort to raise some of the hatchlings in tanks so they can be released at a larger size which will greatly enhance their chances of survival. The pictures and this article certainly don’t do justice to the dedication and success that Dr. Lopez has had in his endeavors to protect wildlife.