Sea Turtles of Baja California

Five of the world´s seven marine turtle species are found in Baja California. From these five, the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) are the most common. Both sea turtle species use Baja as a developmental and foraging area, being born in different places. Loggerhead turtles perform a long migration, coming and going all the way to Japan, their main nesting area. Green turtles have been found to nest in Baja, but sporadically, being their main breeding areas in Michoacan and Revillagigedo.

Two turtle species are known to nest in Baja: the olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), the largest one of all marine turtles. The olive ridley nests are the most common, found in the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez, usually in the lower part of the peninsula. Baja California is the northern extreme of the nesting range for both species in the Pacific.

The last one, the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is now rare in Baja California, due to the harvesting of its shell for jewelry, hair accessories, and decoration. But I have been lucky to encounter them several times in the reefs of La Ventana.

All these turtle species come to Baja for the abundance of marine algae, seagrass, and invertebrates in its waters, and they spend most of their lives in the region, except for when they migrate to different locations to breed. All of them are currently classified in endangered categories.

Baja California´s nesting turtles

The most common marine turtle nests you will find in Baja are the olive ridley´s, tortuga golfina as it´s locally known. The nesting area is distributed mainly in the lower part of the Peninsula: from Bahía Magdalena to the south, both in the Pacific and the Gulf of California. But there are also other northern spots visited by them, like Bahía de Los Ángeles. Females nest on the coasts of Baja California Sur, in the months of July-November although incidental nesting occurs all year long. 

Olive ridley sea turtle hatchling on the beach

Different volunteer groups take care of the nests in different nesting areas. You can learn more about their programs at this link

The turtle nesting season is surely one of the natural wonders you can witness in Baja California. Seeing the hatchlings walking their way to the ocean and starting their life journeys is an unforgettable experience.

You can see a video of the process here:

In the video linked in the Baja California natural wonders page, you can see how this journey starts as well.

Baby olive ridley sea turtle swimming

Adult sea turtles

We also can encounter some of the iconic Baja California´s sea turtles as we engage in different water activities. It´s not rare to see them as we go on the boat, their head out taking a big breath. We can also see them swimming and feeding in some of the coral reefs. In Cerralvo Island, close to La Ventana, we have seen hawksbill turtles very often, feeding on algae from the reef. Green turtles are seen in these reefs, but they are the main stars on the Fang Ming shipwreck in Espíritu Santo Island, a short ride from La Paz. Many scuba divers visit this dive site to enjoy their presence on the wreck´s deck.

Green turtle laying on top of a ship wreck

There are many ways to encounter Baja California´s sea turtles, I hope you can enjoy some of these great encounters! Tell me more about them in the comments if you have seen them, or what would be your favorite marine turtle encounter!

Baja California Wildlife- Wildlife stories

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