September 27, 2014

Watching Turtles Nest

The village of Tortugero is renowned for its 22 km of beach where turtles from Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama come to give birth every year. The season for birthing is nearly over, but we took a tour and managed to see a few of them "doing their thing."

The village has become really good at ensuring that humans don't disrupt the process too much.  Groups of 8 to 10 people follow a guide to the beach, and a spotter will show them various turtles at different stages:
  • Walking from the sea to the beach (we are not allowed during this process as humans can easily spook out turtles who will rush back to the sea without laying their eggs)
  • Digging a deep hole in the sand (same restriction as above)
  • When the turtle is ready to lay, she will go into a sort of trance and concentrate on nothing else but pushing her eggs out (that's where we can start observing the process.)  A turtle can lay up to 150 eggs, depending on her age. Our guide Gina, mentioned that at times, she'd observe a turtle that would only lay 2 eggs: "plop plop it goes -- and it's a bit disappointing to witness" she said
  • Then the turtle will cover the hole with her back flippers, dipping her tail in the nest to check for completeness.  When that's done, she will use her powerful front flippers to throw sand over her head and to land behind her, forming a soft mound of sand.  This is to camouflage the nest, and misdirect predators (humans, dogs, jaguars, birds) away from the real source of eggs
  • Exhausted, the turtle will then go back to sea
She will do this 7 to 8 times in the season, laying upwards of 1,200 eggs -- which is actually an evolutionary mechanism to insure that at least a few baby turtles make it to adulthood.  In fact, only1% of eggs will survive to be full grown adults.

Here's a great video about the whole arduous process of making baby turtles, from Brad Nahill:

Turtle watching starts at around 8:00 pm and can go until midnight depending on the recommendations of the guides and turtle spotters

We weren't allowed to use cameras (even the flashlights emitted a soft red light to be less invasive to turtles), but in the morning, I could see hundreds of turtle tracks from the sea to the vegetation along the beach.  Sadly, many of the nests seemed dug out, the turtles shells were either split open or surrounded by flies. 


Anonymous said...

That's a shame about the dug out turtle nests :( Who was responsible, to they know?

James Bond said...

Did you try turtle soup? :-)

Anonymous said...

I hope you're going to start up your blog again!