Aug 08.23

Monitoring Sea Turtles with RED Sustainable Travel

Charity Pot >> Community

This past spring, LUSH staff from across North America traveled to Magdalena Bay, Baja to embark on a conservation adventure with LUSH Charity Pot partners, RED Sustainable Travel.


RED was founded in 2009 "upon the idea that conservation and socioeconomic well-being go hand in hand". RED takes conservation projects, such as monitoring black sea turtles, and turns them into “conservation adventures”, effectively creating sustainable economic alternatives to poaching for local communities. They've been instrumental in helping local turtle hunters transform into turtle conservationists, and their Magdalena Bay project is now recognized worldwide as a model for community-based conservation.

For one of RED’s own, an ex-turtle fisher named Chuy, this transformation came when he learned about the process a turtle goes through to lay its eggs. Witnessing turtles coming ashore to lay and bury their eggs in the sand, he marveled at the number being laid and the sheer size of the turtles before him. As a fisherman, Chuy had always seen turtles in a different way, but when he watched the baby sea turtles burrow their way out of the ground knowing that there were more just below the surface, he found the experience hard to put into words. These experiences set Chuy on his path away from sea turtle fishing and towards sea turtle protection. Today, he's proud to be able to say that he's saved more turtles than he's killed, and truly appreciates the ones he's liberated.

Our adventure with RED started in Cabo San Lucas. With a part of our group in hand we drove to the small town of La Paz, before collecting the rest of the group and driving the final leg of our journey. The drives were long, but they gave us time to get to know each other and admire the Mexican spectacular countryside. We found ourselves with the ocean crashing on one side, and a landscape with speckled cacti on the other. Eventually we arrived in a small fishing town off of Magdalena Bay, where we traded our trucks for boats and headed toward Conchalita Island, our home for the next few days.

When we arrived we were given a run down on the inner workings of the island. In order to not disturb the surrounding ecosystem, RED leaves the smallest footprint possible, erecting no permanent structures, no plumbing and no electricity. In other words, we set up tents, pit toilets and used flashlights. We were each given a tent-buddy and taught how to use the toilets; "If the flag is up, the toilet is free, otherwise it's occupied!" After settling in, we laid out the net we’d use to capture the turtles for monitoring and divided up a watch system. We would systematically send a boat out to check the nets for turtles over the next twenty-four hours. For those thinking this to be either cruel or dangerous for the turtles, rest assured they took all the necessary precautions. RED uses the latest in net design, with wide enough holes so that the turtles become entangled but do not risk injury.

Finally, after half a day of shifts, we caught a turtle! He was freed from the nets and brought back to the shore where a gentle tickle under the chin calmed him down enough for us to begin. We then took down his measurements to the smallest detail, the size of his shell body, his weight, his tail length…the list went on. All the while, runners were being sent to fetch water to pour on him so he wouldn’t dry out. Handling the turtle and feeling its rough skin and beautiful, smooth shell was a truly incredible experience.

The information we collected provides vital data on health, the average age, gender, migration patterns and the habitat use of sea turtles in Magdalena Bay, which is invaluable to authorities and policymakers when making conservation decisions. Black sea turtles are endangered but their numbers are rising thanks to RED's efforts. When we finished we carried him down to the water’s edge and let him be, watching him scamper off back into the sea. The shifts continued straight through the night, with a handful refusing to sleep for fear of missing the next turtle.

Sadly, morning came and a second turtle hadn’t made an appearance so we were forced to pack up our things and begin the long trek homewards. But not without a quick hike through the sand dunes and a picnic on the beach, listening to the fishermen tell of fond memories of coming to this very spot as children. Finally, it was time to be off so continued by boat back the mainland where our vans were waiting to take us home.

Conservation is such an important focus for today’s world and the education I received during the trip was invaluable. My family has always had an awareness towards the environment, but being able to take part in this adventure has opened my eyes to the care that sea turtles need. My hope is that the effort to save this endangered species is successful so that the next generation can enjoy observing them like I did.

To learn more about RED Sustainable Travel or sign up for a conservation adventure, visit redtravelmexico.com

Written by Chloe Wolverton. Special thanks to Karen Wolverton for her beautiful photos. 

Chloe is a student from Vancouver, BC. She's passionate about art, woodworking and charitable giving. A true globetrotter, Chloe has helped build homes in Cambodia, volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage and constructed a school from plastic bottles in Guatemala- all with LUSH!

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