Swimming with Endangered Green Sea Turtles in the wild… for many of us would be a dream come true.
When I heard we could swim with Green Sea Turtles, right off Akumal Beach in Mexico – I was ecstatic. I had dreamt about it for years, so I didn’t waste any time getting there.
Best of all there was no long boat ride in the hot Mexico sun. Just rock up to Akumal Beach, jump in, and you’re in Green Sea Turtle Paradise.
‘Akumal’ is a Mayan word which translates to ‘place of the turtles’. This place certainly lives up to its name!
Green Sea Turtles have been around for over one hundred and ten million years – since the time of the dinosaurs.
During the months of May and October, the turtles lay their eggs in the sands of Akumal Beach. Once hatched, the baby turtles dig themselves out, then hurriedly scramble down to the sea to avoid predators.
The young turtles set their internal GPS as they leave. Once matured, they return to exact same beach to lay their own eggs.
Here in the Riveria Maya, it’s always a perfect day at the beach. Today is no exception, and we’re ready to swim and snorkel with the giant green sea turtles.
After a fast ride in a little ‘collectivo’ van from Tulum, we got dropped off to take the short walk to the beach. In total contrast to our exhirilating swimming with whale sharks, this was a calm and relaxing day.
We had the impression we were just going to cruise onto the beach, grab some hire snorkels and be off. This wasn’t the case, the beach was packed with people.
Thankfully in the last few years there’s been some controls put in place to preserve this amazing place.
Hopefully it’s not too late.
Initially I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t just go off and do our own thing. Then I quickly realised that not everyone is responsible as us. The results of massive snorkel tourism, and related bad practices have played havoc here (grabbing green sea turtles, standing on coral, poaching sea turtle nests, illegal vendors, shoddy equipment.)
‘Centro Ecologico Akumal’ is working to reverse this situation through better control of the beachfront.
As a result, when we arrived we were asked to watch a short video about safe and responsible snorkelling. No problems with that. We also discover that the reef where the larger green sea turtles frequent can only be accessed with a licensed guide.
After several other not so good ‘guided snorkelling trips’, we were not entirely convinced. We wanted to go to the reef area, so wisdom told us to go with it anyway. Then we found our lovely soft-spoken Mayan guide Gina, from ‘Nativos de Akumal’, and fellow snorkellers Louise and Stu from the UK.
I swapped my jandals for a pair of fins… now I’m ready to swim with one of earth’s most ancient creatures. The five of us set out in the tepid green and blue waters.
Then it’s faces down… we are now in the middle of a paddock. That’s a paddock of sea grass, the green sea turtles favourite food.
Now I’m getting really excited. We swim for a few minutes… then, almost instantly, two beautiful green sea turtles entered our vision. Totally disregarding our presence, they chomped and nibbled away happily at the sea grass. With stretched necks, and clambering paddles, they were almost climbing over each other.
I was totally mesmerised. With eyes totally riveted, I just stayed there, floating. It’s one of those things you can watch all day, and not get bored.
After our first sighting it just got better, and it was common to see several turtles at a time.
We swam further, discovering another of the larger green sea turtles inhabiting the bay. We carefully positioned ourselves – watching, waiting patiently.
Then with a flick of his paddles, and head raised – he glided upwards off the sea floor, and up towards the surface. This is the chance we had been waiting for!
What a beautiful site they make – paddles out-stretched, as they swim up from below.
Then suddenly he breaches the surface for air, and we swim alongside him. It’s a fascinating moment – certainly one we will never forget.
When these gentle giants surface for air, they cruise the surface for a just few fleeting moments. For a few seconds, you’re eye to eye, totally connected.
It’s like time stands still.
Then after a few deep breathes, suddenly they are gone again. Slipping almost silently under the surface… gliding like a bird, back to munch on the seagrass bottom.
Then we witnessed the most fun of all.
A green sea turtle parading like a ballerina – flapping it’s elegant paddles, raised his cute head to the surface for air.
I just wanted to reach out and kiss his cute little face.
Over and over again, he swum up and down, up and down – and like a little kid, I squealed with delight each time.
I could have stayed and watched him all day!
This huge green sea turtle seemed to just glide over the seagrass, almost without effort. We followed him for a while as he glided along, stopping for munch or two, then surfacing.
With Des filming – he swam us in a wide arch, and kept circling in closer towards Des. He would paddle in closer, then out a little, then back in again. Both were totally at ease and comfortable with each other.
It was like each was captivated by the other – each a star in the others film.
This younger green sea turtle seemed to be more intent on playing. He would zoom around at great speed, shoot up for a quick breathe, submerge – then disappear… only to zoom back a few seconds later.
Although the enigmatic green sea turtles were the highlight, we also spotted a very scary Barracuda, which remained in the distance – thankfully taking no interest in us.
There were plenty of Sting Rays, schools of colourful fish and elegant coral. Unfortunately a big storm two nights previous had stirred up the white sands, and lightly powder coated the coral.
Our little guide Gina, from Nativos de Akumal, swam calmly out front, allowing us to just be with the experience – all without intrusion like some other guides we’ve had. In all, we were in the water for nearly two hours – awesome.
This was a most beautiful beach, with the most incredible creatures just feet away from us in the water. Getting up close and personal with these beautiful animals was just another highlight to add to our amazing time in the Riveria Maya, on the Yucatan Peninsula.
It’s fair to say – I’m more in love with Green Sea Turtles than ever before.
Our fantastic day was topped off with a few drinks and an amazing lunch at ‘Lol Ha Restaurant and Beach Bar’ with our snorkelling buddies Stu and Louise.
And last but not least, it was a reminder of another cute little girl in my life…
“Jo… Did you know… a turtle lives in the water and a tortoise lives on the land”.
Miss Zara, age three, proudly announced to me one day, a small fact I’d never really thought about until then. I certainly didn’t learn it as a 3 year old.
So while a turtles home is in the water, he’s a bit like a world traveller carrying his home on his back with him always…
I’m ever so grateful that activities like this are part of my everyday traveling life.
There are five different areas on Akumal Beach, read more here
What WWF is doing for the Green Turtles of Mexico.
Some Turtle wisdom from Ted Andrews author of;
“If turtle has shown up in your life, it is time to get connected to your most primal essence. Go within your shell and come out when your ideas are ready to be expressed.
It is time to recognize that there is an abundance out there for you. It doesn’t have to be gotten quickly and immediately. Take your time and let the natural flow work for you. Too much, too soon, can upset the balance. Turtle reminds us that all we need for all that we do is available to us, if we approach it in the right manner and time.
Turtle also reminds us that the way to heaven is through the earth. In Mother Earth is all that we need. She will care for us, protect us, and nurture us, as long as we do the same for her. For that to happen, we must slow down and heighten our sensibilities. We must see the connection to all things.
Just as the turtle cannot separate itself from its shell, neither can we separate ourselves from what we do to the Earth.”