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Sea Turtles In The Riviera Maya

Updated: Apr 18

Where is the Riviera Maya located?

The Riviera Maya is a tourist area with great natural, cultural and historical wealth, located along the coastline in the Caribbean Sea. Geographically it extends from the town of Puerto Morelos, to the north, to the town of Punta Allen to the south, with a length of about 130 km.

It has approximately 4,295.43 km2 of territorial extension, which is made up of Tulum, Akumal, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Xel-Há, Xcaret, Punta Allen, Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Cobá, among others.

The Riviera Maya is a very important area for sea turtles, as it has not only plenty of nesting beaches to offer, but also high nutritive feeding locations.

When is nesting season in the Riviera Maya?

The state of Quintana Roo has a territorial extension of 50,483 km2 and 900 kilometers of coastline, a natural environment of great beauty, history, traditions, and one of the most important nesting sites for sea turtles in the Yucatan peninsula and in the country. The nesting season covers the months from April/May to December each year on the Riviera Maya coast. Hopefully you will be able to see a nest or turtle nesting during your visit during this season.


Which Sea Turtles come to visit Riviera Maya?

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world. Six of them nest in Mexico. Four can be found in the Riviera Maya :

  • The green turtle (chelonia mydas)


  • The loggerhead (caretta caretta)


  • The leatherback turtle (dermochelys coriacea)


  • The hawksbill turtle (eretmochelys imbricata).


Conservations Programs

The Riviera Maya has several Sea Turtle Conservation Programs, ranging from Punta Venado to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, which makes it the largest program in the country. The season in which sea turtles in Riviera Maya are released is from June to September. For example, the Flora, Fauna and Culture program of the Xcaret group.

The oldest camp is located in the Xcacel-Xcacelito Reserve, two small bays known as the “sea turtle sanctuary” and is a protected area with a regulated flow of tourism. During the nesting season, small groups of tourists are received to observe the activity for one night, a proposal for learning and discovery without disturbing the turtles.

In Akumal, which means “place of the turtle” in Mayan, there is the Akumal Ecological Center (CEA) that actively participates in patrolling the beaches to protect the turtles. In the nesting season of the turtle that goes from May to October, the members of the center together with the volunteers do the work of protecting the nesting females, as well as data collection, observation, relocation, cleaning of nests and in the last months, the release of pups.

Protecting sea turtles not only influences their preservation, it also allows us to contribute to the ecological balance of the oceans and beaches, as well as to the sustainable prosperity of coastal communities.

Good practices if you encounter a sea turtle nesting

During the nesting season it is important to know what measures can be taken if we have an encounter with a nesting sea turtle :

  1. Do not walk on the beach with a flashlight or shine a bright light on the turtle's face. The light can cause the female to interrupt the nesting process, or the presence of these lights can discourage other turtles that are nearby.

  2. Don't take photos with flash. These high intensity lights can be even more annoying than the flashlights themselves.

  3. Stay away and out of the turtle's field of vision or you may send the turtle back into the sea.

  4. Do not touch the eggs or put any foreign objects inside the nest. You could introduce bacteria and damage the eggs.

  5. Do not intercede in turtle tracks once they have left. They are sometimes used by researchers to identify the type of turtle that nested, as well as to locate and mark nests.

  6. Enjoy the experience, and remember it for the rest of your life.

There are many hotels that place lounge chairs and elements that prevent turtles from nesting on their beaches. The strong lighting also disorients both the females and the hatchlings that emerge from the eggs, making their survival difficult. We recommend checking hotels policies and practices before booking.


Snorkeling with Sea turtles

Throughout the Mayan Riviera you can spot sea turtles while swimming. There are three places where the encounter with a turtle is more common :

Good practices when seeing sea turtles while snorkeling

- No touching

- No chasing

- No feeding

- Watch out for corals or rocks

- Keep a safe distance

- Limit viewing time to reduce stress

Wildlife in Sian Ka'an

In the language of the Mayan peoples who once inhabited this region, Sian Ka'an means 'Origin of the Sky'. Located on the east coast of the Yucatán peninsula, this biosphere reserve contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, as well as a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef. It provides a habitat for a remarkably rich flora and fauna comprising more than 300 species of birds, as well as a large number of the region's characteristic terrestrial vertebrates, which cohabit in the diverse environment formed by its complex hydrological system.

There is a great diversity of marine life, including the West Indian Manatee, four species of nesting marine turtles and hundreds of fish species. About a third of the property comprises highly diverse and productive mangrove communities, of vital importance to fisheries in the broader region. Hundreds of forested islands, locally known as "Petenes", emerge from the flooded marshes, some reaching over a kilometer in diameter.

If you wish to spot this wonderful wildlife, we highly recommend to book a tour to Sian Kaan. If you choose our company, you will have a beautiful journey respecting the ecosystems and learning a lot with our passionate and certified guides.

Facts you might not know about sea turtles :

- The two most common sea turtle species along Cancun and Riviera Maya are the Green Turtles and the Loggerhead Turtles, and their nesting season lasts from June to August. Chances are that you might become a witness of this amazing process if you are in the right place at the right time.

- On average, a sea turtle lays 100 eggs (50 – 200). Only one in a thousand baby turtles reach adulthood.


- Females return to the same beach they hatched on to lay their own eggs and bury them in sand ‘nests’.

- With their fins they dig a hole into the sand in which they lay the eggs. They cover the hole the same way and leave the eggs behind.

- It takes approximately 60 days for the baby turtles to hatch. Usually at night, they dig their way out of the hole and towards the ocean with the moon as an orientation.

- Marine turtles’ amazing ability to navigate comes from their sensitivity to the Earth's magnetic fields. Sea Turtles travel hundreds or thousands of kilometers each year before reaching their destination.

- Sea turtles are protected by Mexican law and international agreements, it is illegal to disturb them, persecute or hunt them and consume their meat or eggs.

- The sex of a sea turtle is determined by the temperature at which the turtle's eggs are incubated. In general, warmer temperatures tend to produce females, while cooler temperatures tend to produce males.

Undoubtedly, one of the best experiences you can have is contributing to conservation programs, informing yourself, respecting the species that inhabit the Riviera Maya, picking up garbage on your visit to the beach, not going into the sea with skin products such as sunscreen and reducing your consumption of plastics and disposable products.

If interacting with sea turtles as part of a research or conservation project or if you are visiting a place they come to, stick to defined research regulations to minimize contact and reduce unnecessary stress on animals.

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