Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Oliver Ridley's Arrival and Departure (that would be the turtle)

Managing expectations. A lot of my job is that. A lot of people’s jobs are that. So it doesn’t feel like my free time should be that. But it is. And it’s hard to manage the expectations of myself!

On Sunday night I went to San Juan del Sur with some of the volunteers for NPH that live at the house on the island. Sure, we went to the beach, had a great dinner watching the sun sink over the pacific. But really I was just there for the turtles.

Beginning around September until January, Oliver Ridley turtles lay there eggs in the sand of the (now) protected La Flor Reserve beach. It is one of 7 beaches in the world that experiences massive arrivals of turtles. Picture thousands of 3 foot long turtles filling the beach, pushing past each other with their awkward flippers for prime nest real estate above high tide, but not too far into the forest.

Because it is remote (only 22km away from town, but over an hour drive due to the rough road), we head out with a tour given by a local hostel at about 9 PM. The turtles arrive and leave in the dark and are pretty sensitive to light (they use it to orient themselves since naturally the light would be toward the direction of the ocean and away from the forest, they haven’t caught onto the fact that in most places the forest has been replaced by the bright motel parking lot).

No one knows when the arribadas (the massive arrivals) will happen, but some conjecture the best time is during the new moon, with less light they are less fearful to leave the water. So on our chosen night, a new moon night, we walked through the forest and turned off our flashlights when we reached the beach.

Red light was used as we walked to make sure we weren't stepping on baby turtles. We were allowed two photos each, one of the nest with the camera situated so the flash wasn't visible to the turtle while it was laying, and one of it's butt as is got close to the water to leave. So I never got a good look at the head end. To see the turtle better click here.

Our guide led the way from turtle to turtle explaining what was happening at each step and over the following two hours we saw a grand total of…. four turtles.

Really, they are impressive creatures. Around since before the dinosaurs, they have experienced a crisis of population in the last 20 years like none before. As they delicately curl the edge of their back flippers to spoon sand out of a hole that is as deep as they can reach (about 2 ½ ft.) before laying their eggs and as they thump their massive (around 80 pound) body on the sand afterwards to compact the fill closing it, it is natural to simply be awed by them.

Now hopefully next time I’ll just get to be awed by a lot more of them!

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