A 35-year-old sea turtle refuge in Acapulco is fighting for its life after the most powerful hurricane on record to strike Mexico’s Pacific coast tore it apart last week.
Campamento Tortuguero Playa Hermosa (Playa Hermosa Turtle Camp) has since the 1980s been working on Acapulco’s beachfront to protect the marine reptiles, collecting their eggs so they can safely nest, hatch and return to the Pacific Ocean.
But it faces an uncertain future since Otis, a Category 5 hurricane, slammed into Acapulco on Oct. 25 and devastated the camp and home of founder Monica Vallerino – alongside thousands of other dwellings in the city of nearly 900,000 people.
“We have a camp to protect the sea turtle, my mother has worked and fought for it for 35 years, but this time the hurricane destroyed our whole house, where we live with my daughters,” said Michelle Montero, Vallerino’s daughter.
Mexico’s government this week launched a $3.4-billion rescue plan in response to Otis, which is known to have killed nearly 50 people. Dozens more are still missing.
Olive ridley turtles visit the camp in the rainy season, and Vallerino was preparing for the arrival of the brown leatherback turtle in cooler waters when Otis struck.
“We were expecting a storm, but not one of such magnitude,” she said. “Unfortunately, it hit us so fast that we didn’t even have time to protect the nests.”
Initially forecast just to become a tropical storm, Otis strengthened with a ferocity that stunned weather experts.
Vallerino hopes the camp can recover from the destruction so her family’s work can go on.
“Sea turtles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs and are totally enigmatic animals,” she said. “So we fight for them and want to keep preserving them on our planet.”