Olive Ridleys are one of the five marine turtle species we can find in Baja California and one of the two species known to nest in the peninsula. Their nests are the most common in the region. Known as tortugas golfinas in Mexico, they are one of the smallest of all sea turtles. They grow to about 61cm (2ft) in carapace length and they get their name from their olive-colored and heart-shaped shell.
Between June and November, they migrate to their nesting grounds, going back to nest to the same beach they once were born. Females lay about a hundred eggs and may nest up to three times a year. If you are lucky, during these months you might see a turtle digging a hole at the beach, laying her eggs, carefully covering the nest with her fins, and then heading back to sea.
The eggs incubate in the sand and the sex of the turtles depends on its temperature: temperatures of 31-32 °C (88-89 F) produce only females, eggs incubated at 28 °C or less produce solely males, and incubation temperatures of 29-30 °C (84-86 F) produce a mixed-sex clutch.
A bit over a month later, the hatchlings emerge, dark gray and measuring only around 38 mm long (1.5 inches). They’ll have to use all their energy to get to the water, trying to avoid all the perils that await them, both in land and sea. It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 turtles, will make it to adulthood.
This species is currently listed as Endangered in Mexico. Bycatch in fishing gear and direct harvest of turtles and eggs are their biggest threat. To avoid predation from dogs or coyotes, local organizations protect the nests, so if you see one, make sure you let them know. Driving on the beach affects the ability of the females and the hatchings to get to and from the water and can compact the sand, making it difficult for the babies to emerge.
We are very lucky to have these creatures coming to our shores every year and seeing the babies heading to the water is one of the most amazing nature spectacles Baja has to offer. Let’s make sure this can happen for all generations to come!