Sea Turtle Camp 2020- Coronavirus-Covid 19
— by Linda Mulgrew
Back in January of this year I had the pleasure of meeting with a group that has been volunteering with the Sea Turtle Camp on the beaches in Akumal. In 1993, the first sea turtle protection began in Akumal and at the time, the problems were different than today. But given the Covid 19 situation the conditions are somewhat similar as the early days as there are fewer people but other issues for the nesting sea turtles. Back in the 1980s and 1990s Akumal Bay, had very few sea turtles swimming in the bay-despite the very healthy turtle grass-this was a well-known fact that was documented by Scuba Instructors- as we spent many hours in the bay training individuals to dive. The bay was an authorized natural pool- for many new to SCUBA to learn the skills of the sport. However, the name of Ak-u-mal being the “Place of the Turtles” from the Maya language, is because it was and had been a sea turtle haven for centuries…it was a great feeding ground and nesting area due to the very protected bay. However, by 1990, while Xcacel beach and camp ground already had a protection and conservation team working with sea turtles through the government and Amigos de Sian Ka’an, Akumal did have a growing organization that came out of the turning over of property that was once a community club for the few owners of property in Akumal. This was a very generous and foresighted moment as Akumal was seeing some growth and a few all-inclusive resorts were popping up along the coast. Centro Ecologico Akumal was founded by the donation of the property that once housed the employees of Akumal, a few local businesses a jail and pharmacy along with the original Beach restaurant Zacil. Within a noticeably short period of time a Centre was created, the cancha was redefined and new business’ begun. This allowed CEA to build research and protection programs with the mission of disseminating information on the best eco-tourism model. The sea turtle project was one of the first and I was pleased to not only give weekly presentations about the nesting sea turtles but to help to educate about the wonderful, magical ecosystem we had right out the door and at the beach in Akumal.
In the early 1990s that sea turtles (green, loggerhead and hawksbill) and conch were classified as at risk species. This was a new classification and for the first time environmental laws were being placed on hunting and fishing nets to help reduce the unnecessary and practices that had become traditions along the coastal waters of North America.
CEA had marine biologists, urban and tourist planners, social scientists and other interested groups coming from various academic institutions from the USA and Mexico included among these groups were Cornell University, Texas A&M and UNAM from Mexico City and the World Wildlife Fund and Nature Conservancy. During the early years of CEA, the sea turtle program was run by volunteers and students with a staff biologist and the administration of the organization. Today, this unique and uncertain time in Akumal- during the pandemic of the Coronavirus – Covid 19 that has unexpectedly blindsided the world and kept us all at home. When I met with the group and CEA staff back in January this was never a part of the vision for Campo 2020. The great news is that due to this fabulous group of residents of Akumal, who are called “voluntourists” the program has started and the show has gone on! This group of volunteers will all quickly tell you about their leader and organizer- Rozanne Quintero (Carson). This group of volunteers has had direction and training from the current day Centro Ecologico Akumal, biologist José Manuel González and the director of CEA, Hector Lizarraga-Cubedo. J.M. González has been working for a few years now on his academic credentials and research. In fact, González has published a paper in conjunction with CESAM-Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal. Caretta Caretta- Nesting Activity in Akumal Beaches, Mexico. This paper outlines-the increase in loggerhead population throughout the southern United States and Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and the more at-risk trends of the green turtle. But most excitingly to those that were here from the start up of Centro Ecologico Akumal is that this paper compiles data over the twenty-four-year period from Akumal’s beaches. This is a data bank recap of more than 24 years of protection and research.
When I was put into communication with Leslie Griffiths back in January, I was very excited to learn that this program had such a great group of community contributors and was able to meet with them. It was also very positive to learn about the research CEA was compiling. Hector Lizarraga Cubedo the director of Centro Ecologico Akumal, has ensured that Akumal continues to get permits to conduct research and protection programs throughout the nesting season and one of CEA’s flagship programs continues. Hector, announced that the first turtle nest had been identified for the 2020 season and Rozanne and the group of trained and dedicated volunteers from Half Moon Bay-Media Luna, Playa Akumal, Playa Tortuga, and Akumal Sur immediately started the planning for how to run the program during coronavirus. Hector called a Zoom meeting with the biologist and volunteers-like many of us have learned streaming meetings is more difficult than one would think but Hector brought the group together. Without a hesitation, Rozanne started communication and met with the staff administration including, CEA’s Mauricio Acevez Núnez. The issues were how to get the stakes, the personal protection equipment, forms and data distributed and the team up and running for the season-during a pandemic? Little did I know, there was no stopping the force of Rozanne on her Tortuga Mission. It is so inspiring and such a feel-good story for Akumal during these very difficult times.
In being witness to the start up, we were lifted and moved by the power of the Akumal community to do good work together, which was always at the heart and spirit of Centro Ecológico Akumal in the inception of a cause and an organization. ¡Viva Akumal! … and the new generation of Community Contributors leadership, friendship and a mission. Those of us looking at a view from a different window than Akumal, are so looking forward to coming back to Akumal and the seeing all the nature and beauty we are put on hold from seeing at this time. So in conclusion, I am pleased to announce that thanks to this terrific team- the program is running thanks to the volunteers and staff members. Technicians hopefully, will be added into the mix come June but, it will depend on the situation with the Covid 19 pandemic. In the meantime, please find enclosed a list of practices to start up the season if you are living or working near or on the beaches of Akumal. I know many of the businesses weather, condominium management or security services, have been helping to ensure the safe nesting grounds for the sea turtles. We hope that everyone else can help by making the season a very protected one by helping to respect the nests and nesting mama sea turtles.