Turtles and ATVs

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With this blog post, I’m starting a regular series of short essays on examples of connections in Nature. It is my hope that these examples will help you and yours build a deeper consciousness for Nature that includes an awareness of how things are connected in Nature and the consequences of breaking those connections. Some of the examples are extracted from my latest Amazon book Connections : Life Sustaining Relationships In Nature.

BabyTurtlesThis post offers a specific example of human interference with newly hatched sea turtles as they attempt to move from their hatching site on a beach to the ocean’s edge. But first, you might want to get a little background on sea turtles from this interesting article by Greenpeace.

One of the plagues of our modern environment is irresponsible use of ATVs  and their adverse effect on Nature. This popular activity has the potential of breaking links in Nature’s connections. ATV noise pollution is a major issue in the soundscapes of our forests, prairies, and wetlands. Another broken link occurs when ATVs destroy sensitive habitat.

A case in point is the destruction of newly hatched turtles by ATVs as their operators drive their machines along beaches. Every year, in November, Olive Ridley sea turtles hatch on beaches along the shores of the Sea of Cortez near San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico. In order to survive, the newly hatched turtles must walk from the inland side of the beach to the water line where they enter the sea. Their hazards during their walk are the desiccating heat of the sun and aerial predators such as vultures and gulls. Here is a wonderful video of a baby turtle entering the Sea of Cortez

Unfortunately there is a third predator. During the Thanksgiving holiday in TurtleTracksNovember, many Anglo visitors come to San Carlos with their ATVs. Despite the fact that this beach is a protected reserve where there are signs prohibiting such activity, the ATVs are driven up and down the beaches endangering human beings and leaving deep ruts in the sand. 

These ruts, which run parallel to the waterline, prevent the newly hatched turtles from getting to the water from where they hatched . The baby turtles are caught in the ruts and are forced to move parallel to the beach rather than to the water. The good news is that a number of caring souls pick up many of the little guys and carry them to the water. But, an unknown number presumably perish due to the sun and aerial predators because the ATV ruts prevent these kids from getting to the water.  One of the people who was rescuing the baby turtles tried to talk to an ATVer about the turtles. The ATV guy’s response bordered on the violent. This same problem has happened in previous years as well. People visiting the area think that, because this is Mexico, they can do anything they want including ignoring rules that are meant to protect people and the environment.

Thanks for reading this blog post. The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers. You are encouraged to offer your comments in the space provided below.

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

11 thoughts on “Turtles and ATVs”

  1. Hi Bill! Great blog 🙂 I didn’t know about the turtle hatching on our beaches! I have been extremely busy since we are building a home here. As soon as I have the time I will review your book. Have a delightful summer!

    Much love,

  2. Hi Bill,
    I hope this blog still exists., but just tonight, my boy friend and I were arguing about the use of ATV where there is a Spanish sign– that I think it is prohibited to use this kind of vehicles along the beach. He said this is just placed by someone and it is not illegal. I told him I am not going to break any rule and if he likes it he can do it himself but I am not going to be part of it. He said I am stupid.
    This note where it says “phohibido” is placed across ( very close) from Totonaka RV Park .
    I wanted to know if my interpretation is right–ATV is not allowed along this beach and it is something smart and not stupidity.
    Thank you very much.

    1. Hello Cynthia:

      This is a copy of the email I sent to you today.

      I am responding to your comment on my blog site at http://www.patternsinnature.org. Thank you for checking in and commenting. The blog site is alive and well. I am writing you directly and am placing this text as a reply to your comment on the “Turtles and ATVs” blog post where you offered your comment.

      First, I will explain who I am. I am a biologist who has worked in San Carlos/Guaymas, Mexico for over 30 years. I am both an educator and a researcher. Furthermore (and most important to your comments), I am part of a group of scientists, appointed by the State of Sonora, who established many of the rules regarding beaches and ATVs. So, you are receiving this email from a person who has been directly involved in the ATV/beaches issue. In other words, I am one of the people who made the rules. Let me make this clear to your boyfriend. The “No ATV” signs were put in place by people who know what they are doing. They are there for very good reasons. By disobeying a “No ATV” sign, your boyfriend is breaking the rules. Technically, he could be arrested with his ATV confiscated.

      However, I want to set aside the rules for a moment and explain why the “No ATV” rule exists. I am hoping that your boyfriend will see the good reasons for prohibiting ATVs on beaches and ride his ATV elsewhere. There are two reasons for keeping ATVs off of the beaches:

      1) They can be a danger to humans on the beach — especially during crowded seasons like Semana Santa and Thanksgiving.
      2) During November/December, the Ridley Turtles are laying their eggs along the beach. ATVs destroy the nests. Also, ATV tracks prohibit the newly hatched turtles from reaching the water. In other words, ATVs kill baby turtles.

      I now turn to the subject of enforcement. Your boyfriend is wrong when he says that the signs were just placed there by someone. The signs were placed by people in authority. The problem isn’t the rules. They are good rules. The problem is enforcement. Some 5 years ago, there was heavy police enforcement of the “No ATV” rule on ALL beaches. When an ATV was stopped, the rider was cited and the ATV was confiscated for 24 hours. If the rider repeated the offense, the ATV was confiscated forever. But, like many things in Mexico, law enforcement either set other priorities or just got lazy. Sadly, many Anglos visit Mexico because it is easy to break the law and not get caught. The ATV issue is one example.

      During the Thanksgiving season, many Anglos visit San Carlos with their ATVs. This is particularly noticeable on the beach that stretches from the mouth of El Estero del Soldao and West well past the Delfin condominiums. Many of these ATV visitors rent condos at Delfin or PIlar. It is this area that many turtles are nesting and the young hatchlings cross the beach into the water. My blog post explains the issue in some detail.

      It is against the law to harm or destroy turtle nests by anyone!!! ATVs have been the biggest culprit. While the local police are supposed to enforce the “no ATV” rule, they are basically useless. A number of local volunteers police the beaches in hopes of stopping ATV traffic. Some ATV riders have physically threatened the volunteers. A federal agency known as PROFEPA is the environmental enforcement arm of the Mexican Government. More and more, PROFEPA people are showing up during the turtle season to protect the turtles and arrest violators. The volunteers, under the supervision of PROFEPA, are digging up turtle nests and incubating them elsewhere. This is all because Anglo ATV riders don’t wish to respect rules when they are visiting Mexico. I quickly add that the same problem exists with Mexican ATV riders.

      I also note that ALL of the beach East of Pilar is a State of Sonora nature preserve with a number of regulations. The land behind that beach, and the estuary (El Estero del Soldado) that is in this area, is also protected by the rules. No ATV activity is permitted anywhere in the reserve including the beach. There is a big sign in English and in Spanish, listing all the rules. This bilingual sign is just East of Pilar. There are many other signs throughout the preserve in Spanish. All of these signs prohibit ATV traffic. So, your boyfriend is wrong about the signs.

      In the near future, you will see much more enforcement. We have a newly elected administration in Sonora. The Sonoran department of environment and a number of Mexican and American volunteers will be operating and policing the area.

      I am hoping that your boyfriend will read this letter. There are MANY places where he can enjoy his ATV away from environmentally sensitive areas and areas that endanger people. These areas do NOT include the beaches. He can ride his heart out North of San Carlos in the area near Canyon Nacapule. Also, he can ride all around the La Manga area on the coast north of San Carlos as long as he stays away from the beaches. Both of these areas are popular ATV riding sites with lots to do.

      I truly hope that this letter makes some sense to your boyfriend. If you are “stupid”, so are a lot of knowledgeable people in the area who work hard to protect Nature for all of us to enjoy. I would be glad to correspond with him if you think that will help.

      Saludos !!!

  3. ATVs are a prime example of why we are witnessing an environmental catastrophe. There is a place for ATVs, for ranchers linemen, conservation officers— but as a recreational toy? There is no place for them at all. The same goes for dirt bikes and snowmobiles. The thrill of speed is one of the strangest peculiarities of the human species. It should be resisted, just as one might resist the temptation of one drink too many.

  4. Is there any fundraising going on to help the sea turtles in San Carlos, e.g., for education, organizing patrols, etc.? My husband and I have gone to Pilar every October for 25+ years, but I only learned 3 years ago there were sea turtles nesting there. I was SO excited, and went out early 1 morning and did manage to see 1 little one that had gotten caught in an ATV track. A friend helped it out and it was amazing to see the little one swim like crazy when it got to the water. I teach biology to school children that come to Biosphere 2 in AZ, and we talk a lot about the impacts humans have on oceans & other biomes.

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