The coast of Oaxaca is one of the world’s top five turtle nesting areas, which offers a special opportunity for residents and visitors to witness the arrival of the turtles in huge numbers every year. The best time to see turtles is between July and January when the Olive Ridley turtles arrive in large groups — of 1,000 or more — which are known as “arribadas.”
These can involve as many as 90,000 turtles and last as long as five days. Ideal conditions for an arribada include high tide, a waning moon, clear waters and brisk offshore winds. The Olive Ridley nesting process begins when the female emerges from the ocean before dawn and crawls up the beach to dig a deep hole known as a “body pit” with her flippers. Once the nest depression is prepared, she begins the laborious process of laying up to 100 individual eggs in the nest. She then covers the eggs with sand and returns exhausted to the ocean.
Major nesting beaches include La Escobilla, Mazunte, Morro Ayuta and Rio Seco but turtles also nest at other locations along the Oaxacan coast including Playa del Palmarito west of Puerto Escondido. Turtle watching offers many rewards. But female sea turtles are very sensitive to disturbance, so too much human interaction can prevent them from laying their eggs.
In order to avoid negatively impacting turtle behavior, follow these practices based on guidelines developed with the organization WildCoast and the community of Ixtapilla, Michoacan.
• Go with a trained, professional guide.
• Avoid using flash photography.
• Use a flashlight with a red filter and avoid shining lights in the turtle’s eyes.
• Leave pets at home.
• Stay behind the turtle’s front flipper and away from her head. Leave a wide perimeter of space to allow her to return to the ocean
• Do not touch turtles or their eggs. Humans can inadvertently transfer bacteria.
To learn more about the turtles, visit the Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga in Mazunte.