Saturday, January 8, 2011

Birthing Turtles in Nicaragua (part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about the sea turtle whom I called Olive (because she was an Olive Ridley turtle) who climbed onto our beach in Nicaragua under the protective eye of the Turtle Police and thought about laying her eggs here, but changed her mind and went back into the sea

Last night, about nine p.m., I was treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience when Emilio (who is originally from Nicaragua and is now married to our daughter Eleni) took us two beaches away to La Flor Wildlife Refuge, one of seven beaches in Central America which protects the sea turtles who flock here in mass arrivals of thousands at a time (called arribadas) between August and December.  Each female turtle will lay as many as 100 eggs and bury them in the sand.

Then, 40 to 50 days later, the eggs hatch and great flocks of baby turtles emerge from the sand (usually at night) and crawl to the sea, building up their muscles during this dangerous trek when they are at the mercy of seabirds and other prey.

They launch themselves into the ocean and begin to swim--traveling as far away as Chile and Alaska.  Then, when the females are ready to lay their eggs, they return here to Nicaragua.

The biggest nesting crowds come in  November and December, so their eggs are hatching now.  The park rangers who man the  refuge are there day and night.  For about ten dollars (five dollars if you're local) they let you visit the beach at night and watch the babies emerge and  head for the sea.

Last night, when we arrived, they handed us a basket of baby turtles which had emerged during the day and been collected for their protection until nightfall.  They told us to follow the path straight ahead and to deposit the babies on the sand three meters before the surf.

They gave Emilio red cellophane to put around his lantern and warned us to take photos only without flash--I complied. (The baby turtles will follow any light in their effort to get into the water.)

On our way to the beach we encountered a group of visitors gathered around a large female turtle who was straining to lay her eggs in the sand.  We knew it was not our friend Olive from the day before, as she had a chunk out of her shell from a shark bite.

 Farther down we saw several huge flocks of babies emerging from the sand.  I dragged my feet and scuffled along, terrified of stepping on the babies

 Just ahead of the water we deposited "our" babies on the sand and then shouted encouragement as they headed for the light held by Emilio as he stood in shallow water.  He wanted to help the front runner  along, but we insisted he practice "tought love" so Speedy Gonzalez, as I dubbed him, developed the strength to swim to Alaska.

We stood, feet planted in the sand, while many babies crawled right over our feet and began to swim.  It was a thrilling experience--certainly one to put on your "bucket list" of things to do before you die.

Beside watching the birth of countless baby turtles, I saw the stars for the first time last night in all their splendor--a bowl of stars overhead, the familiar constellations I had studied as a child, but behind these familiar stars, there wasn't darkness, but a strange, foggy , bumpy background of light, like a chenille bedspread with a  faint glow.  I figured it must be the light reflected from far distant galaxies I'd never seen before.

The rangers at the refuge keep a hand-written chart of how many turtles come to lay their eggs each year.  The figure varies greatly from around 87,000 to as high as 186,000.  They predict from the numbers so far, that this will be a record year.

We all felt blessed to witness the birth of one of nature's  bravest and most endangered creatures.

1 comment:

lactmama said...

How wonderful- pure magic. Eleni knows how to pick her men.And thee-who else has a son in law who takes her to a beach to guide baby turtles to the sea??? Sounds like this was one of these connection to the universe episodes that happen all too infrequently in our lives. Thanks for sharing:)