Sometimes those unplanned activities turn out to be the best memories of a vacation. When our family was in Puerto Vallarta recently, we were invited by the Marriott Puerto Vallarta to visit their onsite Sea Turtle Rescue Program. Of all the amazing things we did in this great destination, this was truly a very special experience. Releasing baby turtles in Puerto Vallarta was a huge hit with our whole family – and it’s free and open to the public!

family at baby turtle release Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Those baby turtles at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta beach were so darn cute!

Releasing Baby Turtles in Puerto Vallarta

We’ve been fortunate to swim with sea turtles in several places around the world, including Kauai, Costa Rica and Playa del Carmen. Puerto Vallarta delivered a plussed-up experience that we will never forget. By the time the girls were nudging these little critters into the water, we were all smiles with maybe a few happy tears.

girl holding baby turtle at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

At the Marriott Puerto Vallarta, Ava bonded instantly with her baby turtle as she prepared to release him into the sea.

In 2002, the Marriott Puerto Vallarta established a Sea Turtle Rescue Program on site at the hotel. The beach in front of the hotel is a rich breeding ground for Olive Ridley sea turtles, with hundreds of mother turtles crawling on to the beach each season to lay her eggs in the sand. Predators knew this too, and would prey on the eggs and baby turtles before they could make it into the water. Heartbroken from watching this happen, the folks at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta did something about it, working in conjunction with the National Institute of Fisheries and the Fishing & Marine Biology Station of the University of Guadalajara.

Puerto Vallarta Turtle Conservancy

Marriott Puerto Vallarta established a true Sea Turtle Rescue Program, hiring a trained staff and biologists to oversee the program. Each night during the season, which stretches from May – December, the team watches mother turtles lay their eggs on the beach. Once they depart, the team carefully extracts the eggs from their original nest and relocates them to a protected enclosure nearby. Safely buried in the sand there, the eggs can mature in their natural habitat and release around 100 baby turtles per nest. Once the babies start hatching in about 45 days, the Marriott team gathers them each night, releasing baby turtles in Puerto Vallarta warm ocean waters of  Banderas Bay.

baby sea turtle release with girl in Puerto Vallarta

Sophia named her baby turtle “Sophia”, and her namesake was soon paddling away into the sea.

Protecting Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

It’s amazing to see all the baby turtle nests, organized in lines within the enclosure and labeled by date and number of eggs. Another number indicates the count of how many nests have been rescued within the season. When we visited the latest count was 871 nests this year alone! Figuring an average of 100 eggs per nest, that’s a total of nearly 90,000 eggs rescued in 2018. That is a LOT of baby turtles!

The rescue team carefully recreates the conditions of a turtle nest in the sand of the enclosure, carving a hollow jug-shaped pit in the wet sand about 12-14 inches deep. Inside, the eggs are carefully laid together with a small opening like the mouth of a jug – this is how the hatchlings exit to the surface.

The Sea Turtle Rescue Program at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta has been very successful. In natural circumstances, about 40% of the baby turtles might hatch and make it into the water. In this program, they release more than 95% of their baby turtles in Puerto Vallarta waters. After about 20 years, the mothers return to the exact spot on the beach where their egg was first laid – and they lay their eggs in that spot too. Nature is so amazing.

turtle hatchery at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Inside the turtle hatchery, this starburst-shaped hole in the sand is a turtle nest where the babies had already surfaced.

Baby Turtle Release

On the night we visited, Sophia and Ava were very lucky to learn that two baby turtles had recently hatched and were ready to be released. On a night in mid-season, there might be hundreds. We visited in November, at the end of the season when almost all the hatchlings had been released into the sea.

After scrubbing their hands vigorously with wet sand from the beach, Sophia and Ava were first allowed to each hold a baby in their cupped hands. Our new friend Cristina from the Marriott Puerto Vallarta told the girls to name their baby turtles – Sophia chose “Sophia” (go figure) and Ava chose “Gael”. Wishing them safe travels and with a tearful goodbye, the girls placed each baby turtle at the edge of the waterline.

baby turtle released on sand at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Baby Turtle Sophia makes her way to the water’s edge, planning her first swim in the warm Puerto Vallarta ocean.

From there we watched, waiting patiently for a gentle wave to come up the beach and give “Sophia” and “Gael” their first taste of saltwater. And we waited. Finally, a stronger wave made its way up the sand, and whoosh – little Gael was  swimming his heart out. We waved goodbye with no small amount of emotion. But Sophia the Turtle was still beached and waiting, so Sophia the Girl helped her out by moving her closer to the water. And just like that, the next wave carried her out to sea.

A Tearful Goodbye

We stood and watched the waves, imagining our new little friends swimming instinctively out to sea. Would they stick together? Would they go it alone? We prefer to believe that all their brothers and sisters were out there waiting for them, so they could swim together like those baby sea turtles in “Finding Nemo”. With a last wave goodbye, we walked back up the beach towards the Marriott for dinner.

Beach sunset at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

As the sun set, our little baby turtles swam away from the beach and off to adventures under the sea.

Celebrating Over Dinner at Mikado

At the Marriott Puerto Vallarta’s excellent Asian-inspired restaurant, Mikado, we celebrated the release of Sophia and Gael with a spirited dinner. Sitting at an exhibition-style kitchen surrounding a hot cooktop, we reveled as our chef put on a show with knives, fire and incredible feats of cooking showmanship. It was a delicious and entertaining meal, and Ava and Sophia even got into the act.

Cooking demonstration at Mikado Puerto Vallarta

Sophia got into the action, cooking us some dinner alongside her new chef friend (!)

First Ava and then Sophia took turns cooking with our chef, and they did a great job! Feasting on their hard work, we all enjoyed a delicious meal of many courses and lots of interesting Asian flavors. We highly recommend Mikado at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta if you get a chance to visit.

See You in 20 Years

Our family made a pact right then and there. In 20 years, we are coming back to the Marriott Puerto Vallarta to visit the Sea Turtle Rescue Program at night. We’ll sit on the beach and wait for Sophia and Gael to return, as Sophia crawls up to lay her eggs and Gael stands guard from the shallow waters. Our turtle experience will have come full circle!

*For other things to do with kids in Puerto Vallarta, read our story Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts.

Bailey-Klugh family at Mikado Restaurant Marriott Puerto Vallarta

After our dinner at Mikado, they presented us with this amazing rendition of our logo made entirely from sugar. Wow!