Save The Sea Turtles
The Carnival Cruise Line “Save A Sea Turtle Experience” allows you to rescue baby sea turtles from their nest in Cozumel and release them in the ocean. We recently cruised with Carnival to Cozumel, Mexico and spent the day doing the “Save A Sea Turtle Experience” with Carnival Cruise Line. We had an amazing time and I wanted to share it with you.
About the Turtles
Cozumel has the most sea turtle nests per kilometer than any other place in Mexico, by a 3 to 1 ratio. This excursion works with biologists in the area who have mapped out over 2,000 sea turtle nests on the island! The biologists monitor the nests that hatch overnight on the protected beaches and that’s where the volunteers come in. You are given the opportunity to help dig up the turtle nests to save the turtles that couldn’t make it out on their own. As the first few turtles in a nest start to hatch, they push the sand down over the other turtles. It makes it really difficult for some of the turtles to make it to the surface. Did you know that only 80% of the hatched nest has the energy and stamina to make it to the surface? That’s where you get to make the difference.
This experience was booked directly through Carnival. That means that transportation from the cruise port was provided, as well as security in knowing you won’t get left behind if the excursion runs late! We had a meeting point right off the Cozumel pier. After we checked in with our guide, Alfredo, we boarded a large air conditioned tour bus. Alfredo begin telling us about the island of Cozumel, and how important the turtles are to the region. We stopped by a small roadside market and had a chance to shop for a little bit, buy a cold drink or take some pictures at the overlook of the ocean. Make sure you have some cash if you would like to shop. The vendors will haggle with you, so don’t feel pressure to pay full price. This stop is going to be your one and only bathroom break on the excursion, so don’t skip it! In the interest of full disclosure, this is not your typical bathroom. It’s a step above a port-a-potty, but that’s about the only positive thing I can say.
After we boarded the bus again, Alfredo got in contact with the biologists to determine our work site, and then he demonstrated how we were would work the turtle nests. It’s a labor intensive process, and following the instructions is critical. Each volunteer is given a rubber glove to make sure that the turtles aren’t exposed to any germs on our hands. We were also shown the proper way to hold the turtles by using our pointer fingers and thumbs to grasp the outside of the shell, making sure to never touch the underside of the turtle. Their stomachs are coated in oils that are critical to their safety in the water.
Working Your Nest
5 nests hatched the prior night. Our tour group had 28 people, and we were divided up among the nests. Our family of 6 worked the first nest. Each group was set up with a beach umbrella for shade, a bucket and verbal instructions to help safely remove the turtles. We had to draw a small circle in the sand around the marker location, and then draw another circle just beyond the first circle. The inner circle indicates where you will dig, and the outer circle is the line in which you shouldn’t cross with your body weight. This part is very important. Each person digging is to lay on their stomach in the sand and scoop the sand out with their gloved hand. You place the removed sand outside of both of the circles so you don’t get a pile of sand in your way.
Finding The Turtles
Our mama turtle laid her nest on a hill, right at the edge of some shrubbery, so it was somewhat awkward to work the nest. We took turns scooping the sand out and roughly a foot down we came across our first turtle.
Words cannot describe what it felt like pulling that small sea turtle out of the sand. It was something I’ll never forget. The turtles are very sluggish when they are first pulled out, so don’t be alarmed. We gently placed the first turtle in the bucket and within a few seconds he was all over the place!
We took turns working the hole until it got so deep that my husband had to reach the bottom. We pulled out 14 live baby turtles! I even got the honor of pulling a turtle out as it was hatching from its egg! Part of your job is to make sure you remove all the turtle eggs and shells from the nest. You group them into piles of 10 so the biologist will be able to determine how many eggs were laid, how many hatched on their own, and how many were rescued.
The Save the Sea Turtles Experience was hands down the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had on a cruise excursion. Pulling those precious baby turtles out of the sand was something I’ll never forget. We counted over 90 eggs in our nest! We unfortunately pulled out several eggs from our nest that didn’t make it, but we pulled out 14 live babies! That is 14 baby turtles that wouldn’t have survived had it not been for the turtle rescue! We loved our Save the Sea Turtles experience!
After the nests were completed, the turtles were collected in a large bucket. We formed a line along the shoreline and each of us were given a baby turtle to release. It was amazing at how strong those little babies are. Feeling those little fins moving against my fingers was awe inspiring. At release time everyone stands in a straight line at the edge of the water. You need to make sure you don’t move as the turtles were heading out. The turtles are placed in the sand so they “learn” where they came from. This teaches them where they will return in 10-15 years.
Be Very Still!
The waves would wash the turtles right back in and if we moved we would risk stepping on them. Some of the babies washed back into the shore line several times. They kept on until they finally reached the water and swam away. We did 2 releases where everyone had their own turtle, and then the final release was about 50 turtles at the same time. It was completely joyful watching those turtles scurry across the sand as they headed out into the water. I’ll never forget watching those baby turtles swim away! We released 4 loggerhead sea turtles from one nest and 125 green sea turtles from four nests. 129 baby sea turtles were set free by this unbelievable volunteer opportunity!
You will be given the opportunity to purchase a picture of your group at the nest, as well as souvenir t-shirts. Make sure to bring cash if you think you will be interested in either!
Things to Know Before You Book
- The Save the Sea Turtles experience excursion is available in Cozumel July through November. It costs $79.99 for children ages 4-12 and $89.99 for teens and adults. Yes, you are paying to volunteer, but it’s worth it! As always, prices are subject to change.
- You can book online prior to your cruise, or onboard your Carnival ship. The excursion may sell out.
- The excursion is 4 hours long, and there is no minimum age.
- If you are pregnant or have heart or respiratory problems, you are not permitted on this excursion
- The cruise has a moderate activity level. You could be walking down hilly terrain to reach your nest, laying on the ground digging, and standing for extended periods. You will get dirty, hot and sweaty. It is a very physical excursion!
- The excursion left at 9 and it was almost 2 when we got back on the ship. Lunch isn’t provided. You may want to bring some snacks with you.
- There is a good chance you will encounter baby turtles that didn’t survive. Prepare young children for this possibility.
What to Bring With You
- Comfortable shoes for walking in the hot sand.
- Comfortable clothes for being in the sun for an extended period of time. We wore our swimsuits and swim shirts/cover ups, and flip flops. You can rinse your cool your feet in the ocean.
- Sunscreen, but don’t apply it below your wrists. It can wipe off on the turtles.
- Cash if you would like to shop in the marketplace.
- Bring a towel to wipe off.
- Bottled water and possibly snacks. You will receive cold water at the end of the excursion, but you could get extremely hot and thirsty in the sun on the beach.
- Camera. Trust me on this, you are gonna want to take pictures and video of your adorable baby turtles.
- Gratuity money for your bus driver and tour guide. They deserve it and work so hard for it!
Memories for a Lifetime
This excursion was the highlight of the cruise for our family. We will cherish the memories, and hopefully in 10-15 years our turtles will return to this protected beach in Cozumel and continue the legacy for future generations of sea turtles!
How to Book
For more information, or to book the Save the Sea Turtles Experience excursion, please visit Carnival’s Excursion Site. As with most travel options, utilizing a good travel agent is always the best way to go. They already know all of this information and will be able to advise you on what’s best for you and your travel party. If you’ve already got an agent you work with, then great! Contact them today! Need an agent? We’d be happy to help you plan! Check out our bio page for information on how to contact us and get your own vacation planning going!