She Came Back!

2012 January 2012 Nature Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall  from the January 2012 Edition

Last year I wrote about how thrilled I was to see the baby turtles resting in a pail of sea water for release on the beach the following day. This year, mama came back about a month earlier. Perhaps the romantic in me likes to think it’s the same sea turtle returning to ‘our’ special location each year and I’m a bit possessive of her. Admittedly, it could be a different turtle but there are not many nesting along our beach. Again she came in at night and our staff on duty watched quietly as she found her nesting spot in front of the sea wall bordering our complex.

It continues to be such a marvel for me as my research has taught me that it takes approximately 25 years for a female turtle to mature and begin the nesting process. She may be somewhat ‘promiscuous’ as she will often mate with more than one male and will carry the sperm for several months until she is ready for nesting. “When she finally lays her eggs, they will have been fertilized by a variety of males. This behavior may help keep the genetic diversity in the population.” Our Mexican amigos described this particular female at about 3 feet or 90 cm wide.

Because the incubation period for the eggs or clutch to mature and hatch is 48 – 60 days depending on the temperature of the sand, I estimate that the mother must have nested and layed the eggs before the onslaught of Hurrican Jova in mid-October.

One thing I noticed upon our arrival at the beginning of November was that the level of sand on the beach near our seawall was at least 3 feet higher than last year and must have been brought in by the storm surf of Jova. That would mean that these little hatchlings would have had to dig a lot further up than usual and I would imagine they would have been exhausted. Thus, the safety of an overnight rest offered by the staff and their release the following day was a good thing.

This time my husband Allan and I were ready. Our doorbell  ‘tweeted’ and we were summoned to the beach for the main event. Allan with his camera and me prepared to help the babies along and into the surf. This as it turns out is not as easy as one might imagine. The surf on our beach ‘Playa Salagua’ or ’Playa Azul’ is known for its strong undertow and a number of people have been swept out to sea and drowned here. So when the surf rushes in it also rushes out and will often collide with the next waves coming in. The result of this was that some of the babies making it into the water would be washed back up onto the sand as much as six to ten feet or so and then must take another run at it. Even part of a construction crew working next to us came running over to give us a helping hand and see the event.

So I found myself unexpectedly rushing around rescuing the ones brought back in by the surf and setting them back on track, up to my butt in water while Allan raced around trying to get some photos with his extended zoom lenses on the camera. Too bad I hadn’t thought about a swim suit! At one point I wish I’d had a camera to catch Allan being swamped by a wave right over his head with the only thing visible being one arm sticking up out of the water holding the camera safely above the surf. He actually succeeded I’m happy to report!

I wish I could tell you that all these little critters made it out to sea. But, alas the deftness of some of the birds circling above proved too much for a couple of them as the birds swooped down and had them in their beaks like precision acrobats at the circus. No amount of hollering and cursing on my part worked! And of course under the water other predators lurk waiting for tasty morsels to present themselves. I felt badly, but it’s a simple lesson about why only 1 to 3 percent of the hatched clutches will make it to adulthood.

We can only hope that some of these beautiful sea turtles make it far out to sea and that mama will return next year and the cycle of life will renew itself once again. It felt so special to be part of it.


Download the full edition or view it online