How Sea Turtles in One Community Made a Remarkable Recovery, After Nearly Disappearing

By Brad Nahill, President & Co-Founder of SEE Turtles

In the 1980s, the black sea turtle was on the brink. After decades of females and their eggs being stolen and eaten by humans, their numbers had dropped dramatically.

On a beach in the West Coast of Mexico, the number of adult females nesting went from an estimated 25,000 in the ’60s and ’70s to 533 recorded nests in 1999. Things were looking bleak.

Recovery efforts had been underway, but the results were slow to materialize. There had been nearly two decades of work by the local indigenous community and researchers from the University of Michoacan. Since the start of the work in 1982, the beach ranged from roughly 500 to 3,000 nests per season.

What the conservationists working on this beach didn’t realize in 1999 was that a recovery was right around the corner.

The hatchlings they had protected over the years were about to start returning as adults. Combined with efforts to reduce the capture of turtles in fishing nets and a nationwide law banning the sale of turtle meat and products in 1990, the situation for these turtles was improving.

How Sea Turtles in One Community Made a Remarkable Recovery, After Nearly Disappearing

The black sea turtle is considered by most sea turtle experts to be a sub-species of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas); though some, including Carlos Delgado of the University of Michoacan, still believe they may be their own species. These turtles can be found in the Pacific ocean, ranging from Costa Rica to Mexico along the Pacific coast, out to islands including Hawaii and tNahua residents set up large hatcheries on the beach, so the eggs could be protected before they hatched. Kids walk up and down the beaches each night, bringing the eggs to the hatchery in exchange for a small payment.he Galapagos. Their role in the ocean is an important one; their grazing on seagrass beds helps maintain these important coastal ecosystems.

Javier Alvarado Diaz, a University of Michoacan biologist, first started working with the local community in the early ’80s. At the time, it was common and legal to eat sea turtles and their eggs. These were animals to be exploited, not protected.

But through hard work and education, the residents of Colola came around and are now responsible for the protection of this important nesting beach.

Nahua residents set up large hatcheries on the beach, so the eggs could be protected before they hatched. Kids walk up and down the beaches each night, bringing the eggs to the hatchery in exchange for a small payment.

Starting in the year 2000 (the year following their record low season), the numbers of nests started growing, from a little more than 3,000 that year to more than 6,500 in 2001. Over the next decade, they averaged around 4,000 to 5,000 per year. In 2010, the numbers took another jump, reaching nearly 10,000 nests that year and growing steadily.

In 2016, they set a record for nests in one night with more than 1,000. And 2018 was their best year on record with more than 30,000 nests — a 3000% growth rate.

Last year, they released nearly 2 million hatchlings into the ocean. Carlos and his team now estimate that the population is back up to an estimated 10,000 adult females, a remarkable recovery.The black sea turtle is considered by most sea turtle experts to be a sub-species of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas); though some, including Carlos Delgado of the University of Michoacan, still believe they may be their own species. These turtles can be found in the Pacific ocean, ranging from Costa Rica to Mexico along the Pacific coast, out to islands including Hawaii and the Galapagos.

The work of the Nahua community and the University were recognized last year by the International Sea Turtle Society with a Champions Award, given for outstanding work protecting sea turtles. An Orion Magazine photo essay by photographer Neil Ever Osborne documented the far-reaching efforts to protect these turtles.

SEE Turtles is a proud supporter of this project since 2013 through our Billion Baby Turtles program, resulting in saving nearly 1 million hatchlings since then. Care2.com members have been a huge part of this support, having protected more than 70,000 hatchlings at this beach through the Butterfly Rewards program. Care2 members can save a hatchling now at Colola Beach for 25 butterfly credits. With your help, we can cross the 1 million hatchlings saved mark and help complete this remarkable conservation success story!

By Brad Nahill, President & Co-Founder of SEE Turtles

SEE Turtles is a non-profit organization that protects endangered sea turtles throughout Latin America and the world by supporting community-based conservation efforts. We fund important turtle nesting beaches, offer hands-on conservation expeditions, and educate travelers and students about how to help these charismatic reptiles. 

72 comments

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan H24 days ago

thanks

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Christine S

nice!

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Marija M
Marija M25 days ago

Respect and big thanks to all in that Community! What a good news.

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Sue L
Sue L25 days ago

This is great news! Especially since the East Island that was just covered and mostly submerged with water from Hurricane Walaka was the nesting ground for nearly half the Hawaiian green sea turtles. So keep using your butterfly credits to help these turtle hatchlings. Thank you to Care2 and SEE Turtles for giving us the opportunity to help.

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heather g
heather g25 days ago

That is a remarkable result and all people who worked on this project deserve a big thank you. Most importantly, it was achieved through remarkable leadership. I can think of many other projects where this type of dedicated leadership is needed.

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RosemaryRannes HusbandHos

Dedication and education towards conservation and preservation of the Black Sea Turtle species is now achieving tremendous success. Kudo's to everyone involved in saving the Black Sea turtle species!
Especially : " Care2.com members have been a huge part of this support, having protected more than 70,000 hatchlings at this beach through the Butterfly Rewards program. Care2 members can save a hatchling now at Colola Beach for 25 butterfly credits. With your help, we can cross the 1 million hatchlings saved mark and help complete this remarkable conservation success story!"

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Glennis W
Glennis W26 days ago

Greatest news of the week Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W26 days ago

Reeally awesome Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W26 days ago

Wonderful news Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W26 days ago

Very interesting article Thank you for caring and sharing

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