Posted by: ecodestination | April 30, 2009

Coastal weddings harm sea turtle populations

photo by the Calgary Herald

With so many tourists making the idyllic beaches of Quintana Roo-Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, etc. their destinations, they are taking a toll on the local endangered sea turtles.

As well, it’s become fashionable to celebrate weddings and honeymoons on these coasts. (Hey, I don’t blame these people – those coasts are gorgeous!)

In packed places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, beaches are swamped with hotels, condos, restaurants, and other tourist attractions that exude bright lights and noise pollution. Severe beach erosions have also damaged or destroyed many of the turtles’ nesting sites.

Some biologists have shown laudable dedication and worked to coax some establishments into adopting certain turtle-friendly measures (ok, less turtle-hostile measures). These include putting out or redirecting their lights, withdrawing camastros, chairs and other portable furniture, and advising guests and employees to stay away from the turtles altogether. These measures are crucial, as anything that hinders turtles’ reproductive activities further endangers these animals.

Fortunately, these serene turtles can still count on Tulum and nearby beaches for respite. Since this part of the coast is less ridden with resorts and other buildings, the area provides turtles with a more tranquil habitat.

It is still necessary, however, for turtles to have pristine and peaceful havens if they are to reproduce at normal rates (which are already low!). For this purpose, there do exist certain restricted areas, although they do remain largely unsupervised.

How coastal weddings harm turtles

Habitually, weddings and their corresponding celebrations take place at night – turning normally dark, deserted, and quiet beaches into bright, loud, and chaotic spaces. These wedding practices screw with turtles’ spawning rituals, causing the animals to return to sea without taking care of their reproductive business.

Baby turtles at night

Baby turtles at night

Exacerbating this is the fact that both turtle spawning season and low tourist season (during which flight and hotel reservation costs drop, which draws tourists in) coincide. Both seasons begin in April-May.

As you’ve probably already guessed, no legal restrictions exist in Mexico to protect sea turtles from such situations. Celebrations may legally take place any time of the year on any beach at any time. Sweet, huh? Not for the turtles!

At one point, Tulum was under the influence of rules that protected turtles during spawning season. But now they are obsolete. Many greedy hotel owners choose to invite their guests to do whatever the hell they please as long as they pony up the money, instead of respecting Mother Nature.

At the same time, there are some conscientious hotel owners make efforts to protect local ecosystems and thus prohibit noisy and bright events that would take place after dark. This is another reason to stay at an eco-hotel wherever and whenever you travel.  (Please check the “Lodging” category for posts with links to some eco-hotels around the world and peruse our blogroll, directories, and organizations lists on the right-hand column.)

Sea turtle populations on the Mexican Caribbean have already declined drastically from their original numbers. We owe it to our planet to play eco-nice.

You can read more on the issue here, and about the Xcacel-Xcacelito red alert here, here, here, and here.



  1. […] will be a community center with art shows and live music—ahem, noise and light pollution! (Remember their effects on the endangered sea turtles, anyone?) Well, its impact on the ecosystem would depend on location, noise level, and other […]

  2. […] at night, when many animals venture out to nest, spawn, feed, and so on. Even whispering and small amounts of light have been found to disrupt the mating and normal behavior of wild birds and other […]

  3. […] at an eco hotel, but then wears regular sunscreen while checking out coral reefs? What if a couple celebrates their wedding on the coast of Quintana Roo, where so many severely endangered sea turtles go to nest? Or if people with good […]

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