It was a warm dawn in late October when we walked down the beach in Desemboque del Sur, a fishing village of the Comcaac, to see if any sea turtle hatchlings were ready to take their first swim into the Gulf of California. We were accompanied by Israel Llamas and Juan Carlos Cruz who coordinate the Ancestral Tides Initiative bringing a network of international indigenous sea turtle conservation groups together for which Salud Comcaac is a participating member.
As we trudged through the sand and surf past a boatful of White Pelicans and the shallows where Turkey and Black Vultures feed on fish remains, we could see that the Grupo Tortuguero team members were already assembled at the sea turtle nursery or criadero 50 yards above high tide. That signaled to us that more Olive ridley turtle hatchlings were ready for release.
As soon as we arrive at the nursery where dozens of eggs had been placed to protect them from predators, we see Comcaac schoolchildren, university students and a Televisa film crew streaming in to help with the release, which would be one of the last of the year. But it also helped launch a two day Fiesta de Tortugas Marinas which attracted both local residents and others from five villages and cities nearby for a fleet of biocultural activities. There were workshops on sea turtle monitoring and hatchling care, games and puzzles to teach children about Comcaac traditional knowledge of sea turtle migration, music, film, presentations by Indigenous interns, evening campfire talks under the full moon and a film on Comcaac cultural heritage. All in all, over 140 visitors were attracted to the events, in addition to the many residents who participated.
The Comcaac or Seri community has collaborated with Salud Comcaac for many years on ecological restoration of coastal wetlands, mesquite milling and other projects, but they can proudly be called The People of the Sea Turtles above all else. They have intricate knowledge of five sea turtle species, and consider one to be so sacred that it was never hunted —the leatherback or siete filos, but they also relied on green sea turtles historically for meat, oil, medicine, fiber and even shelter, using their carapaces to make roofs over their temporary shelters. They still exercise their cultural rights to harvest green sea turtles for periodic ceremonies, but seldom do so due to the influence of Grupo Tortuguero’s conservation efforts. The grandchildren of historic sea turtle hunters are now sea turtle conservationists, and ecological restorationists for two sea turtle habitats,mangrove estuaries and seagrass beds, some of the most productive ecosystems in North America.