At just under 3.75 inches in length, the Vallarta mud turtle, endemic to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is thought to be the smallest turtle species in the world. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most endangered, as rapid urbanization in the bustling tourist city threatens its only natural habitat. 

The species was first described just five years ago, and with only a few known specimens in existence at the time (and just one female), it was already in dire need of protection. That’s where Turtle Island, a conservation, breeding, and research center, comes in. 

Courtesy of Turtle Island

Helmed by Austrian scientist Peter Praschag, the international nonprofit has a mission to “save turtles and tortoises from extinction through acute rescue, care, research, breeding, and rewilding.” Turtle Island considers itself an “ark” for endangered turtle species, housing over 2,500 turtles belonging to more than 240 taxa in multiple locations across Austria. The organization has also worked on conservation projects in Turkey, China, South Sudan, Bangladesh, and other countries throughout the world. 

In 2022, the team partnered with the University of Guadalajara to establish an assurance colony in the area to house, research, and breed the Vallarta turtles before eventually rewilding them. They returned in 2023 and erected a turtle protection fence, after discovering that turtles living in one of the few remaining habitats were being struck by automobiles as they attempted to migrate to their summer spot. 


Courtesy of Turtle Island

Turtle Island’s hard work has paid off. According to the nonprofit, “more than 30 specimens were saved from being killed on the road” thanks to the fence. And this past February, for the first time ever, three healthy baby Vallarta mud turtles were hatched in captivity — measuring just three-quarters of an inch in length at birth. 

“The hatching of the Vallarta mud turtle is a testament to the remarkable stress resilience of these incredible creatures,” Praschag said in a statement shared with Nice News. “Despite facing numerous challenges in their natural habitat, they have shown the ability to overcome adversity and thrive in a protected environment.”

Courtesy of Turtle Island

He added: “Through this accomplishment, we hope to inspire others to join us in our conservation endeavors. Together, we can make a difference and ensure a brighter future for the Vallarta mud turtle and other endangered species around the world.”