La Tortuga Viva ("The Living Turtle"), legally named Campamento Tortuguero Playa Icacos, began operations in 2010. Since 1991, Mexico has banned the exploitation of sea turtles, including hunting adult turtles, consuming and/or selling their eggs and disturbing their nesting sites. Additionally during the 1990s, the Mexican government required commercial fishing fleets to employ turtle excluder devices (TEDs) to minimize the bycatch of sea turtles. Nonetheless, poachers and other predators, not to mention industrial fishers (who often to do not comply with using TEDs) and coastal development, continue to threaten endangered sea turtle populations. When unprotected in the wild, sea turtle nests are highly predated by human poachers (mainly for their eggs but also for turtle meat) and by local badgers, feral and pet dogs, and many other animals.
As part of the solution, the federal government turned to a more community-based approach. The Secretaria for the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) funded the establishment of small turtle camps, also known as sanctuaries, throughout the country’s historical turtle poaching communities to help rebound populations. Through this initiative, La Tortuga Feliz (“The Happy Turtle”) was initiated in 2001 in Playa Icacos, Juluchuca. Playa Viva began working with this camp in 2007, but eventually some of the members of La Tortuga Feliz decided to start their own camp with Playa Viva and founded La Tortuga Viva (Campamento Tortuguero Playa Icacos) in 2010.
LTV is a registered Asociación Civil (A.C.) in Mexico (the equivalent of US non-profit) and has appropriate documentation and permits to run a sea turtle hatchery. The sanctuary is entirely run by volunteers and basic operational costs are supported through the partnership with Playa Viva Hotel. The Turtle Sanctuary Coordinator Volunteer, recruited by Playa Viva Impact Officer, supports the relationship between the hotel and the turtle sanctuary president as well as the relationship with SEMARNAT. The Turtle Sanctuary Coordinator ensures the sanctuary is well organized, that best conservation practices are being applied, that the sanctuary complies with federal laws and that the sanctuary volunteers have what they need to do effective conservation work.
Volunteers live and work in the small community of Juluchuca, a “one tope town” (there’s just one speed bump in town, no traffic lights here) on the coastal highway from Zihuatanejo to Acapulco. Juluchuca has about 400 residents, many of whom depend on the land for their livelihoods.
Decades of unsustainable agricultural practices have taken a toll on much of the arable land, but there is still enormous opportunity to revive the area’s natural resources and once again become a thriving and resilient ecosystem.
La Tortuga Viva directly impacts 14 families through family members’ participation as volunteers at the turtle sanctuary. We are invested in capacity-building of the volunteers and perform community outreach and support local education.