Every parent and educator knows the challenges of getting kids truly engaged in learning. That uphill battle can make a vacation with education at its core seem like a pretty tough sell. But how about a vacation in which the kids get to swim with sea turtles in their native habitat while videoing them with GoPros to count and measure afterward? Or how about swimming with the largest fish in the world – the whale shark – to identify males versus females and take photos for photo identification work on a computer? Or maybe kayaking in mangroves to record bird and fish species abundance and biodiversity?
These are just three examples of the terrific citizen science programs for families in Mexico’s Baja California Sur through which families get to participate in ongoing research projects designed to collect data that will help shape public policy and opinion for species and habitat conservation and sustainable use.
The most popular citizen science program is the overnight at Sea Turtle Camp. It takes place in August and September on the shores of the Pacific. Families patrol the beach at night with local biologists and look for endangered female Olive Ridley turtles as they haul their 100-pound bodies out of the ocean in search of ideal nesting spots. Each female leaves 90-120 white ping-pong-shaped eggs in a sandy hole, camouflages the nest with a characteristic belly dance, then leave the offspring to chance.
That’s where the volunteers come in. Animal predators, coastal development and illegal poaching all threaten sea turtle populations throughout the world. At this sea turtle research station, volunteers help combat declining populations by aiding biologists as they collect the eggs, record the nests and number of eggs, and relocate them to a protective nursery. In many cases, volunteers see mature nests bubbling with turtle hatchlings and can guide the hatchlings to the sea. For an idea of the joy of a hatching event, please see the following video.
But you don’t have to be engaged in an actual research project to learn some pretty amazing things in Baja. For example, when you go whale watching in the lagoons of Magdalena Bay, you learn that gray whale mothers like to bring their babies right up to the boat to say hello, and that the babies turn on their sides so that they can get a better eyeful of you. You also learn that gray whales love to be patted and rubbed, and that they think it’s pretty funny to spout water on humans in boats. Their courtship rules are discussed too.
There’s also the option of swimming with sea lions in the Sea of Cortez, where you learn that sea lion puppies are very much like their canine counterparts, always looking for a fun game of chase and never inclined to turn down a good belly rub.
These are just a few examples of amazing adventures in the great natural beauty of Baja. For more information on these and other citizen science and wildlife programs for families, please see Todos Santos Eco Adventures. With Todos Santos Eco Adventures you don’t just visit Baja, you live Baja!
Bryan Batson Jáuregui (center), along with her husband Sergio Jáuregui, is the founder and owner of Todos Santos Eco Adventures and Los Colibris Casitas in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Bryan first went to Baja on a sea kayaking trip with her sisters in February 2000. She enjoyed the whole trip so much that two years later she married the guide. Since then, Bryan and Sergio have built their business into one of the leading adventure travel companies in the Baja peninsula.
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