Alejandra Aguirre was born and raised in San Pancho, just a short drive from Sayulita. As a child, she volunteered at the San Pancho turtle camp, an organization dedicated to protecting the Olive Ridley sea turtles and their nests on the beaches of San Pancho. She studied hard in school, became a marine biologist, and wanted to do more to help the turtles. At the time, there was no organization in Sayulita to help protect these endangered turtles, so Alejandra, Eric, and Odette, took it upon themselves and started Campamento Tortuguero Sayulita three years ago.
What was it like starting Campamento Tortuguero Sayulita?
Well, at first we started patrolling the beach by ourselves, but we weren’t yet officially recognized as an organization. Together, we worked for the federal permit to legally be able to do activities to help the turtles. We got our permit and started Campamento Tortuguero Sayulita on the beach in front of Eric and Odette’s property. We had to change the area a little for the turtles and made an official incubation area. With the permit, we legally could take the turtle nests and rebury them in the incubation area. Also, more people started helping us.
Why are the Olive Ridley sea turtles endangered?
The destruction of the habitat - the beach is their home as much as the sea is. The more beachfront houses that are built, the more living space that is being taken away from the turtles. Also, the houses give a shadow on the beach, as well as umbrellas that are put into the sand. Turtle nests need the heat from the sun. The light from the houses and the businesses are another reason. The turtles are attracted to the light, which are the most dangerous zones for them because there might be dogs in the area and ATV’s. The areas with the lights are also more visible, which puts them at danger of the people who still eat the eggs.
Campamento Tortuguero Sayulita has two projects. Will you tell me more about this?
The first project is the protection of turtle nests and the second is educating the children as to the importance of protecting the turtles. We want to expand on the collaboration between the kids and the turtle camp and educate the new generation how important it is to protect the turtles. If we keep protecting the turtles, more turtles will come back every year. It is really important the upcoming generations are aware of how to deal with the turtle nests, where to take them, and know how important it is to continue to protect them. We are working on a project with the children to train them as volunteers and teach them to patrol the beach. It’s important we work to increase the turtle population in this area to a stable level.
How are these projects making a difference in Sayulita?
We are living in a more ecological time and making people more aware of the need to protect the turtles. In the past, it was normal for children to eat turtle eggs and meat. Through education, we have made them aware that turtles aren’t a delicacy and they need to be protected. This is changing the idea that it is ok to eat them. We also offer a tourist attraction – people love watching and participating in releasing the baby turtles.
What role do you play?
I’m the leader of both projects. Campamento Tortuguero Sayulita is my life. I do everything - go to the school and teach, do turtle releases, clean and patrol the beach, move nests, and do the social media. If I’m not on the beach or at the school, I’m in front of the computer.
What motivates you to continue to try to make a positive impact in Sayulita?
Sharing with people the experience of caring for the turtles, saving the turtles, and helping a rare species to not become extinct.
What changes do you want to see brought about by this group?
I’d like for there to be designated “safe” umbrella areas and areas where umbrellas are not allowed from June to January, when the most turtle eggs are laid. Umbrellas in the sand are dangerous to turtle eggs- the umbrella post could puncture the eggs, and also the eggs need the heat from the sun to hatch. We have a register of the beach where the majority of the turtle nests are laid, and we could designate “safe” areas based on this.
What have you gained from your involvement with this group?
Satisfaction from doing the work, helping the turtles, and planting a seed of awareness as to the importance of protecting the turtles, as well as the importance of volunteering.
What positive changes have you seen brought about by your efforts? What are you most proud of?
Each year we protect more and more turtles and each year we have more and more volunteers.
How can others help?
Our total project is based on donations, and it can only continue if we receive donations, so donations are always needed. This can be in the form of pesos or needed materials, such as wood for the incubation area, marking points, markers, flashlights, etc. Volunteers are also always needed to patrol and clean the beach. We also sell t-shirts, post cards, and stickers to raise money. You can purchase both items at the Mercado del Pueblo every Friday or at the Campamento Tortuguero Sayulita. Turtle nests are also available for adoption for 500 pesos and you will have the opportunity to release the baby turtles when your nest hatches.