Papa Tortuga

Yes, one person CAN make a difference.

There's proof in a small fishing village in Mexico. It was there, at the age of 16, that Fernando Manzano found his purpose. Now, several decades later, he continues to dedicate his life to bringing Kemp's ridley sea turtles back from the edge of extinction. His efforts have made a remarkable impact on the population of this critically endangered species. His passion touches thousands of people each year, and Fernando has become a role model in his community where he has turned poachers into protectors.

In his youth, Fernando was disturbed by the common practice of eating sea turtle meat and eggs. It anguished him when his father insisted that he drink sangria made with turtle blood, claiming that it would strengthen his lungs.

From the 1940s – 1970’s humans were responsible for a drastic decline in the population of Kemp’s ridleys - to the point of near extinction. Most people did not seem to notice or care about this, but Fernando Manzano was different.

Inspired by a Jacques Cousteau documentary, this young man took it upon himself to help the turtles. Originally, Manzano worked solo, but it was soon evident to him that community education and involvement was crucial to his mission. He formed the nonprofit, Vida Milenaria AC, an organization dedicated to long term protection of sea turtles. Now many Tecolutla residents, as well as volunteers from all over the world, help with beach patrol, nest protection and other conservation tasks.

Thanks to Fernando’s determination, there has been a significant increase in the population of Kemp’s ridleys on the beaches of Tecolutla. In 1974 Fernando found just five nests to protect. Now he and his team at Vida Milenaria protect many hundreds of nests each year.

Education is one of Fernando’s most important jobs. Thousands of children visit annually, to participate in the release of hatchlings. The smiles on their faces and exclamations of awe are some of Fernando’s favorite rewards. This enriching experience not only opens their hearts to the plight of an endangered species, it also teaches them the importance of caring for our planet.

Señor Manzano’s cousin scolded him recently about his financial situation, showing concern for the fact that Fernando does not have “enough capital”. Fernando smiled at his cousin and replied, “I have millions in capital. They’re out there, swimming in the sea”.


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Papa Tortuga Documentary

Papa Tortuga was created by the Arizona-based production company, Aspen ProMedia. This is their first documentary. This film is a half hour tribute to a very special man and his mission. It is full of beautiful underwater photography and emotional interviews. Plus, another element of this video, which adds so much to its artistic expression, is the music. Composer, singer & guitar player, Lazaro Herrera, with his Latin band Synthesis provided the beautiful sounds. The Papa Tortuga documentary has been shown at numerous film festivals, and has also been shown on the PBS program Natural Heroes.

Papa Tortuga Fernando Manzano from Elise Wilson on Vimeo.