Imagine being awakened in the middle of the night to be summoned to witness a critically endangered Leatherback turtle laying eggs on the beach minutes from your bed. For David Leventhal, co-owner of Playa Viva Sustainable Boutique Hotel located 35 kilometers south of Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa International Airport on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, such an opportunity materialized out of the moonlit night. David reported the happening in his recent blog post; “The turtle sanctuary volunteers had radioed in that they had come across a Leatherback turtle laying eggs about a half kilometer down the beach. Did I want to go? Of course!” and he was subsequently a witness to this tremendous occasion.
Within Conservation International’s (CI) Mesoamerica Hotspot, Playa Viva is an eco-tourism resort that offers an all-inclusive, beach-front, off the grid, natural experience close to a major tourist destination located approximately 35kilometers south of the city Zihuatanejo in the state of Guerrero on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.
As sustainable tourism is one of four sectors of investment focus for Verde Ventures (VV), Playa Viva seemed an ideal match for VV’s vision of sustainable tourism acting as an effective mechanism in a green economy to secure critical habitats and provide alternative economic opportunities for local communities around the world.
Spearheaded by the husband and wife team of David Leventhal and Sandra Kahn, the Playa Viva Sustainable Hotel project recently acquired a loan from Verde Ventures to set out on tackling several challenging, but worthwhile tasks. The project is not only directly involved in supporting a turtle sanctuary, but also aims to engage in habitat restoration and ecosystem function, maintaining a conservation presence on an otherwise unmonitored stretch of beach spanning tens of kilometers. As the only formal employer on the beach, it will also play an important role in providing sustainable economic development for and will help to build capacity of the local community surrounding the resort.
In its role as supporter of La Tortuga Feliz turtle sanctuary manned by an all volunteer team from the nearby town of Juluchuca, Playa Viva will be aiding in the protection of turtle nests with high egg counts - five to ten nests of leatherback turtles (Red List CR), about the same number of green turtle nests (RL EN), and more than 2,000 nests of Olive Ridley turtles (RL VU) - and low hatch rates.
“The Leatherback Turtle is highly endangered,” wrote David Leventhal. He continued, “To give you an idea of how endangered, out of 200,000 turtles released on the beach here a few years back, less than 500 were Leatherback. That means less than a half of a percent of all turtles on these beaches are Leatherback.” Knowing this just emphasizes how extraordinary David’s being witness to a Leatherback laying eggs was. As he put it, “A one in a million chance that on this night, the earth would shake and a Leatherback would emerge from the waters at the right time, in the right place…and there I was, next to this glorious creature as it was laying her eggs.”
According to the IUCN Red List, populations of Leatherback Sea Turtles located in what was once their stronghold in the Pacific Ocean have “declined drastically in the last decade, with current annual nesting female mortalities estimated at around 30% (Sarti et. al.
1996, Spotila et. al.
2000).” Major threats that are contributing to this decline include illegal egg harvesting and poaching and the incidental trapping in oceanic fisheries. Other threats include the killing of females for oil extraction, Leatherback hunts and oceanic pollution – plastics in particular.
David attested, “Had the wrong group of human beings come across her, she would have been cut into meat and carried off to some underground market, slaughtered, her eggs purchased as precious aphrodisiacs.” Fortunately, for this female, a much more pleasant and hopeful experience came to pass, as she was able to finish laying her eggs, covering her tracks, and making several nest decoys to safeguard her eggs from predators. This is the nightly work of the volunteers of La Tortuga Viva turtle sanctuary, to protect these endangered sea turtles.
With Verde Ventures’ support and the watchful eye of intrepid stewards like the volunteers of La Tortuga Viva and the support of Playa Viva, inspirational occurrences such as this one will hopefully become the norm on every moonlit or non-moonlit night on this stretch of Pacific coast.