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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Turtle Festival Diary Extract - Rachel Dickson (Pez Maya Oct-Dec 2008)

The Yucatan Peninsula is a very important nesting area for several species of turtles – green, hawksbill, loggerhead and the leatherback (which can weight up to a tonne!!)

It is therefore very important to educate the local population, in particular the children that live in coastal areas about these turtles and increase their awareness of the dangers the turtles face, especially during nesting season.

The turtle festival of Tulum is a celebration of the end of the nesting season, to celebrate the new lives of the tortugitas. This October saw the 6th annual turtle festival and over time it has become a rather large event.

GVI had a stand and various games for the children’s entertainment and education. After a couple of weeks of frenzied preparation we were ready. Armed with a child sized labyrinth, a giant puzzle, a rather large ‘happy fact-sad fact’ game and some storm proof bin liners we set off to Tulum.

The first day was spent with our games, which went down a treat. The kids loved them! And once they had completed a game they got their faces painted as reward.

It was a chance for all to practise/learn a bit of Spanish and also to immerse ourselves into a great cultural event, with even the local press cornering us for an interview!

There were various performances by societies and clubs including some Mayan music which we enjoyed on our limited breaks from the very excitable kids.

Unfortunately as the sun went down the rain started to pour, although considering the kind of weather we had been experiencing, we considered ourselves lucky that it held off for that long. People dispersed like lightning, but spirits remained high and we carried on regardless ensuring that every child had the face painted turtle that they deserved.

The following day began with a beach clean on Tulum beach, after turning around at 6am due to torrential rain we returned at 9am accompanied by a more optimistic sky and a couple more well deserved hours in bed. Overall it was a success. We were joined by other organisations and locals alike.

 No matter how many beach cleans we do I am always surprised at the amount of rubbish that we collect – they really open your eyes to how we treat our seas. 

Once the beach was clean we headed down to Xcacel and the main event – the big turtle festival show and the release of 250 baby sea turtles. GVI volunteers had various roles which mainly involved crowd control and stewarding. The Spanish speakers were assigned a slightly different role: child guides. We were to be allocated 25 children each to guide throughout the festivities; these children would be releasing the turtles into the sea. As the parents could not accompany the children we had to number them all and give the parents tickets with the corresponding number. A bit like a cloakroom at a nightclub or theatre. Although seemingly bizarre there was no other obvious alternative! Once we had our 25 children we led them to where they would be kept for the next hour or so, keeping them in place, entertained and separate from neighbouring groups was a challenge, but fun too. Especially when one decides they need the toilet, another tries to show you their impressive sand sculpture, three more start a sand fight and a 3 year old wants to find its brother…all at the same time! This became even more desperate when the sun set and you could no longer see the children’s faces… It was always a relief when your check count came to 25.

After the show was over (which included a massive turtle and various people on stilts representing Gods) we lined the children up to release the turtles. One grabs my leg ‘I’m scared of turtles’ she says to my knee. Oh dear…

As each child receives their turtle they are told the golden rules: Don’t eat your turtle…. And don’t drop or hurt your turtle.  Their faces light up as they all give their turtles names and make a wish for them. It is a really magical moment when your 25 children, who have been moaning at you for over an hour because they want their mums or they want to release their turtles, finally fall silent as they hold them.

Torches are shone on the tide to simulate moonlight, as in nature the baby turtles follow the moonlight to the sea. This way we can check they all make it, which they do.

Once over it is time to return the children to their parents, which as expected is complete chaos, successful. No child is lost, and 250 turtles have been safely sent on their oceanic way.

Rachel Dickson, Pez Maya, Oct-Dec 2008