ASUPMATOMA and Cabo’s Sea Turtles

Rancho Punta San Cristóbal

Rancho Punta San Cristóbal

 When realtor and ASUPMATOMA founder René Pinal first visited Cabo San Lucas, it was a remote fishing village where the only tourists landed their planes at a few private air strips. Pinal saw the area’s future. In 1974, he moved to Cabo and set up shop.

Forty years later, Pinal is respected for his long record of success both as a realtor and a conservationist. After years of involvement in environmental issues, he founded the non-profit ASUPMATOMA in 1995. The Spanish acronym stands for the Association for the Protection of the Environment and the Marine Turtle in Southern Baja. Pinal established a nature preserve and the first turtle camp in the state of Baja California Sur at his Rancho Punta San Cristóbal.

Biologist Carla Sánchez, her son Narok and Leslie Patiño

Biologist Carla Sánchez, her son Narok and Leslie Patiño

When I meet with ASUPMATOMA’s director, biologist Carla Sánchez, in the organization’s Cabo office, she begins by explaining that the most common turtle in the area is the olive ridley, or golfina, which can weigh up to a hundred pounds, and nests June to December. The second most common is the leatherback, or laud, weighing in at up to 1300 pounds, and nesting November to February. Unfortunately, for this post, the olive ridleys have all departed and the leatherbacks didn’t come this year.  

Nightly, during nesting season, females flock to Baja California beaches where a single turtle lays as many as a hundred eggs before returning to the ocean. Forty-five to fifty days later, the babies hatch and make their way to the water. The tiny animals contain enough fat to survive until they get the hang of finding their own food. The downside is that other animals, both marine and land, consider turtle eggs and newborns a tasty treat. Turtles can also die entrapped in human trash or fishing lines. In their instinctive march to the ocean, newborns have been known to become disoriented by lights from human encroachment. Even though the Mexican government banned the sale of turtle eggs in 1990, the myth still persists that they are aphrodisiacs. It’s estimated that 35,000 sea turtles die annually in and around the Baja peninsula.  “Of every thousand turtles born, only one will make it to reproductive age,” Sánchez says.

ASUPMATOMA turtle egg protected area

ASUPMATOMA turtle egg protected area

The beaches at Rancho Punta San Cristóbal provide ideal temperatures and humidity levels for the eggs to mature. During nesting season, nocturnal volunteers fan out to dig up the eggs as soon as the females leave and rebury them in enclosed areas, protected from foxes, skunks and other predators. When the babies hatch, they are taken to the ocean’s edge and “liberated.” Dangers are still plentiful, but thanks to programs like ASUPMATOMA, olive ridleys are on the rebound in Baja California.   

Near the nesting beach at Rancho Punta San Cristóbal, a spacious building includes a general meeting area / classroom, restrooms and a kitchen. Outside, there is ample room for parking and camping tents. Each year three to four thousand children learn about the turtles and environmental sustainability. Typically, over five hundred people come to the ranch for the annual one-day Marine Turtle Festival with music, food, workshops, a play, nature walks and bike rides and other events. The day culminates with a turtle liberation where children pick a newborn to release at the water’s edge. Each child takes home a certificate with his name and the name he gave the turtle he liberated.    

Patiño on Rancho Punta San Cristóbal beach

Patiño on Rancho Punta San Cristóbal beach

 At the end of our interview, Sánchez suggests I return the next morning to meet René Pinal. The next day, she apologizes. Pinal is at the ranch, however Martín Ocampo, general director of Pinal & Asociados can take me. A short while later, I’m on a highway out of Cabo with a man I’ve just met.

After a tour of the main building at the ranch, Ocampo hops in a dune buggy and says, “Come on.” He drives up a dry creek bed and through a saguaro forest before heading onto the beach. “The ranch has eight hundred fifty hectares (two thousand acres). Sixteen kilometers (ten miles) are beach front,” Ocampo says. As we fly along a pristine beach that stretches for miles with no one in sight, it’s difficult to image that recently thousands of baby turtles were hatching here.  

René Pinal and Martín Ocampo

René Pinal and Martín Ocampo

We finally catch up with René Pinal near a rocky outcropping. Complimented on his spectacular ranch, the affable, soft-spoken man responds, “Baja California Sur is a state full of nature beauty.” The conversation about his environmental work moves between Spanish and English. He talks about ASUPMATOMA’s research work that includes putting tracking devices on leatherbacks that were later found as far south as Ecuador. I ask about the relationship between this camp and the Campamento Tortuguero Don Manuel Orantes in Cabo San José. Pinal smiles, remembering the now deceased Don Manuel who Pinal trained here at Punta San Cristóbal before sending him to open the camp that now carries his name. Today there are nine turtle camps in the state, all helped along by Pinal and ASUPMATOMA.

 All too soon, Ocampo and I are back on the highway to town. During three and a half days in Cabo, I’ve met an amazing cast of locals working every day to make the world a better place and going out of their way to share their stories with an American blogger.  

Visit ASUPMATOMA’s Facebook page and watch a liberation of baby turtles below:

 

Comments

  1. Judy Keene says:

    Where did you get your information about Don Manuel Orantes??

    • Leslie Patiño says:

      Hi Judy, it’s been nearly 2 years since I wrote that post and I no longer have the notes with the links. As I recall, some of the information was from the Asupmatoma website. Then, when when I was in Cabo and went out to Rene Pinal’s ranch with him and Martin Ocampo, they filled in more information. Thanks for reading!

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