WILD OAXACA – A Conservation Success Story

Community | coral reef | Mangroves | ocean

Members of WILDCOAST’s Board of Directors and our supporters recently joined WILDCOAST for an expedition to Huatulco on the Oaxacan coastline of Mexico to explore the region’s beautiful ecosystems that WILDCOAST helps protect. Oaxaca is home to incredible biodiversity, renowned cuisine and vibrant culture: all the right elements for a perfect adventure.

DAY 1: Huatulco National Park and the Copalita River

The first day of our adventure started aboard a large panga with 23 of us geared up for snorkeling  in Huatulco National Park, a marine protected area WILDCOAST helps conserve. As we cruised along the dramatic coastline, we spotted several olive-ridley turtles swimming along the surface, given its birthing season, and manta rays leaping from the sea.  

Snorkeling the coral reefs off the stunningly beautiful Chachacual beach, we saw many species of colorful fish like blacknose butterfly fish, Cortez rainbow wrasse, yellow-tailed surgeonfish, reef cornetfish, and even a turtle. Next, we moved to Playa La India, an empty, crescent-shaped beach accessible only by boat that National Geographic has ranked in the top ten best beaches to snorkel in the world. 

The beach’s uniqueness is due to its low tides, which in turn, display the coral in the open air. Despite these stressful conditions, the coral survives and flourishes. 

After snorkeling in the warm water, we stopped at Cacaluta Bay for a Oaxacan picnic lunch that included ceviche, tlayudas and local fish grilled directly on the beach. Meanwhile, our coral expert and Oaxaca Coastal Coordinator Gabriela García explained the importance of conserving corals, and how WILDCOAST contributes to the protection of this ecosystem: 

“Corals in the Mexican Pacific, including the corals in Oaxaca, have particular ways to adapt to climate and ocean conditions, such as cold water currents, upwelling, and sedimentation. They are resilient to climate events such as El Niño and hurricanes, that usually cause coral fragmentation and massive bleaching, yet these manage to recover. So it is critical to study and monitor these corals.” 

Photos: Claudio Contreras Koob

Gabriela also explained why the WILDCOAST team  installed buoys in the bays to help maintain the coral reefs: “The buoys in Huatulco National Park have helped conserve the reefs, because the prevent boats from dropping their anchors in the reef areas and destroy the plate corals. This permits the ecosystem to remain intact,” explained Gabriela.

Photos: Yehuda Ben-hamo

After a delicious toes-in-the-sand lunch of fresh ceviche and grilled fish on that empty golden sand beach, we returned to the marina, and then took a short break at our hotel, before arriving at our next adventure: rafting the Copalita River. 

The Copalita River flows from the mighty Southern Sierra Madre – carves through forests and jungle and crosses along many communities, ending directly in the Pacific Ocean. We paddled and splashed through playful Class 2 rapids, enjoying the warm water and cool breezes, enthralled by the tropical forest and mountain views.  It was a beautiful way to end our first day in Huatulco, and to connect with each other in nature.

DAY 2: La Escobilla

After rising at 5:00 am and sipping some well-needed caffeine, our group headed toward La Escobilla, a protected beach one hour north of Huatulco. 

La Escobilla is one of the few beaches in the world where a most interesting phenomenon occurs: a mass sea turtle nesting event, or what Oaxacans call an arribada. During the rainy seasons, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles arrive at the beach to nest at the same time. 

These events usually last around three or four days, and happen several times during the season from July to January. There are only ten to twelve beaches in the world where arribadas  occur, and three of those beaches are in Mexico: two in Oaxaca and one in Michoacan. 

WILDCOAST helps protect the two Oaxacan arribada beaches, Escobilla and Morro Ayuta, monitoring the arribadas and working towards the conservation of the turtles against human caused threats. 

Arriving at La Escobilla as the sun began to rise, we met WILDCOAST’s Oaxaca Coast Manager, Luis Angel Rojas, along with Guillermo González Padilla, Coordinator of La Escobilla Beach Sanctuary from CONANP (National Commission of Protected Areas); and members of the El Santuario de las Tortugas La Escobilla Cooperative Society. 

We gathered by the protected sea turtle nests and learned about the work the people from the cooperative do: rescuing the turtle eggs from poachers, nesting them while monitoring their temperature and humidity, counting them and, lastly, liberating the turtles once they hatch. 

Don Eradio, a former sea turtle egg poacher, told us about his former life of stealing and selling the eggs and how, today, he dedicates his life to conserving the turtles. 

Turtle experts Luis and Memo explained the main threats turtle eggs face – human poaching, beetles, dogs, vultures, coastal development, pollution, oil spills, and more –  and the efforts that are being done by WILDCOAST, the Mexican Turtle Center (CMT) and CONANP to conserve the species.

We celebrated our turtle releasing success over a healthy breakfast in the bohemian town of Mazunte and later that night enjoyed gourmet Oaxacan food overlooking the bay at Clio’s in Huatulco.

WILDCOAST helps protect 22 miles  of critical sea turtle nesting beaches.  The olive ridley was once on the brink of extinction, but the hard work of a dedicated group helped turn this into a tale of conservation success.  

A very successful campaign to halt the illegal trade in turtle eggs and meat carried out by WILDCOAST involving soccer stars, Maná, Los Tigres del Norte and Dorismar as well lucha libre star El Hijo del Santo, also played a major role in the recovery of olive Ridley and eastern Pacific green sea turtles. 

While turtle poaching was not only a common practice, but an important part of the culture and diet in the Oaxacan coastal communities, nowadays these practices might even be unthinkable to many families, and some are active conservationists. 

Since 2017, more than 72 million turtles have been born on the beaches WILDCOAST helps protect, alongside CONANP and the Mexican Sea Turtle Center.  This is a living proof of how small, community-based actions can be huge turning points in the conservation of a species. 

To learn more about WILDCOAST’s sea turtle conservation check out this short film by GoPro on WILDCOAST’s work.

Top + Right: Claudio Contreras Koob | Left: Yehuda Ben-Hamo

How You Can Help:

$250: Adopt a sea turtle nest so we can safely protect the hatchlings, monitor their development and safely release the hatchlings into the sea after their birth!

$500: Support the monitoring of an arribada so we can patrol the beach and stop poaching by helping us hire more locals to protect the beach and mother sea turtles