For a map to drive to the beach – click here (2 page .pdf file).
To learn more about the Olive Ridley turtle and the camp’s work to increase their numbers, click here.
To read about my personal experience with releases, click here.
In previous posts, I described my baby turtle encounters and provided (or tried to provide) some education on the Olive Ridley sea turtle that calls the Bahia de Banderas its home. This post is dedicated to Nan, Antonio and the Campamento Tortuguero Boca de Tomate that exists for the sole purpose of expanding the turtle population.
Antonio is the full-time camp manager. Of all the camps in the bay, this is one of the few (possibly the only one) that is staffed and runs year-round. He lives on the beach at the camp and is responsible for most of the work required – a partial list of his job duties includes:
- patrolling the beach to search for nesting mothers or tracks leading to and from new nests
- relocating the eggs to the hatchery at the turtle camp
- overseeing releases of the babies
- cleaning the sand after hatchlings are gone (hauling old nest sand away, replacing it with fresh sand to reduce the risk of contamination between nests)
- cleaning the area around the camp to minimize the scorpion and raccoon population
- cleaning the beaches of trash
Nan lives near the camp and stumbled upon them during an evening beach walk. After taking part in a turtle release she fell in love was hooked. Nan is extremely passionate about the babies – I swear she would kiss each baby good-bye if she could. She helps Antonio when she can but she also works full-time so her time at the camp is necessarily limited. There are other volunteers from Red Tortuguera who help but their presence is sporadic, so Antonio carries the bulk of the responsibility for keeping the camp running.
From Nan, I learned the following about the camp at Playa Boca de Tomates (note: below are photos from another camp as well as Boca, to show the camp potential. This is in no way meant to denigrate either camp – both are doing great work.):
- The camp has been in operation for 24 years. It’s one of the few camps (possibly the only one) that is staffed year round. Many of the other camps in the bay area are on hotel properties and are operational only during high season.
- In 2016 there was one six week period with no mothers laying, but otherwise the nest collection and baby releases occur year-round. The high season for nesting and hatching takes place from early June through the end of January.
- This camp was supported by Guadalajara University, but the university cut the program in 2007 and camp oversight was taken over by Red Tortuguera. Since then the camp receives some financial and operational support from Red Tortuguera but currently almost all of the camp’s routine expenses are covered by individual donations made directly to the camp. Most of these donations come from individuals like you and me who take part in the releases and make a contribution that evening.
- Operational expenses that the camp has to cover include:
- Gasoline and maintenance for the camp quad
- Fencing and netting to protect the nests from predators
- Sunshade to protect the nests from the summer sun
- Replacing various equipment as it wears out – fencing, shovels, tubs, zip ties, tools
- Rotating supply of at least 150 coolers for the hatchery
- In addition to financial needs for daily operations the camp has been in a rebuilding process since October 2015. Hurricane Patricia dumped a large amount of rain in the mountains surrounding the bay and two days after she passed over the bay, flood waters rushed from the mountains to the sea. Among the casualties was the camp – the palapa building, all equipment and over 200 nests were lost to the storm.
- Rebuilding needs include:
- Replacing the palapa to provide sleeping quarters, kitchen, wash basin and shower for Antonio and other volunteers (currently they sleep in tents when working at the camp).
- Expanding the hatchery (coolers and enclosure).
- Replacing rehabilitation center and increasing the number of available tubs to house mothers under stress. For example one mother last year surfaced with a head injury and was kept safe until she recovered enough to return to sea.
- Replacing the education center to help disseminate information to the kids who come to the camp.
- Currently the camp has a wooden storage / work building but Antonio lives full time at the camp in a tent. Rebuilding the palapa will provide Anthony and the part-time volunteers with more comfortable quarters and more protection during inclement weather.
- Camp wishes include:
- Camera equipment to film after dark
- Solar panels to provide power for both living and inside work
- A weed eater to keep the brush down and minimize scorpions
- 3-5 gallon sprayer for weeds and bugs to help with camp maintenance
- Metal band saw to cut plastic tubing, buckets
- Fencing to provide better protection for the nursery (estimated at 16,000 pesos) to keep predators out and babies in.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the financial needs for rebuilding, the last item alone (fencing) is estimated to cost 16,000 pesos ($800 US).
If you are headed to the Vallarta area and would like to participate in a “liberacion de tortuguitos”, please head out to Boca de Tomates. Their public releases are announced on https://www.facebook.com/CampamentoTortugueroBocaDeTomates/ (or search for “Campamento Tortuguero Boca De Tomates” on Facebook and “follow” to see their postings).
Note that there are not releases every day so it’s important to monitor the Facebook page for announcements. The busy season for hatching is Nov – Dec so if you are in town in those months you have an excellent chance to participate almost every day.
When you go to the camp, the release will take place close to sunset because that’s when the frigate birds move away watching for the moving feast on the sand. You are likely to not only see a beautiful sunset, but also likely to walk back to the road in the dark and encounter bugs near sunset. In addition to a bottle of water, you could consider a small flashlight and bug spray for your visit.
Remember the camp runs mostly on donations. There is not a charge for participating in a release, but if you do go, please bring some pesos or dollars. Your donation – 100 pesos, 200 pesos, or $5 or $10 bill – will be much appreciated.
At this time, there isn’t a way to electronically contribute directly to the camp. If you are interested in supporting the work, consider a donation to the Sea Turtle Conservancy. For my personal friends, contact me if you are interested in making a donation to the Campamento Tortuguero Boca de Tomates and let’s see what we can work out.