Sea turtles storm Mexican beaches

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (Reuters) -- Sea turtles are spawning in record numbers along Mexico's Pacific coast this year, thanks largely to stepped up protection against poachers, the nation's environmental watchdog said on Wednesday.

Some 27.2 million Olive Ridley turtle eggs are under guard in nests at main breeding beaches in Oaxaca state, the environmental protection agency Profepa said. Of those, about 9 million are likely to hatch, the highest numbers in 20 years, the agency said.

"This turtle that was seriously hurting in the '80s and '90s is in full recovery and if these protection efforts continue we should have much success," said Luis Fueyo, director of marine resources for the agency.

Mexico has several varieties of sea turtles, and they are typically ravaged by natural predators, erratic weather and human hunters seeking their meat and eggs, sold illegally in big cities as a delicacy.

Man is their biggest threat and some of the turtles are still in danger.

But the Olive Ridley has made a comeback, with hundreds of thousands arriving to lay eggs under beach sands this year in a spectacular annual ritual that has taken place for centuries. The egg-laying season runs from June to November.

Of the 27 million eggs under guard, perhaps 30,000 turtles will grow up to lay eggs of their own, Fueyo said. Adults are believed to return and lay eggs on the same beach where they were born. Mexican authorities are tracking the offspring.

An important breeding ground, Mexico has 120 beaches where Olive Ridley turtles lay eggs, though the large majority go to La Escobilla and Morro Ayuta beaches in Oaxaca.

Profepa has increased its vigilance of beaches with help from the military and federal police, but more remote areas are difficult to protect.

Earlier this year the carcasses of hundreds of sea turtles, most of them Olive Ridleys, were found bludgeoned and carved open by poachers farther north in Guerrero state.

And just last Saturday authorities stopped three poachers carrying 2,000 stolen eggs, Fueyo said.

International regulations aimed at preventing the accidental capture of turtles and other sea life in deadly fishing nets also are helping boost the populations, he said.