I was reminded this week that I never told the turtle story that I teased in my last post (Sorry Diana)! So to make up for that, here is the story and lots of pictures and videos:
We had heard from travelers before us that somewhere in southern Baja near Todos Santos there was a beach where they released baby sea turtles at sunset. We hadn’t planned to drive further south than La Paz because we were running short on time, but KP knew how much an experience like this would mean to me, so we decided it would be worth a trip.
The Tortugeuros Las Playitas organization spends almost every night from December 1st-March 31st releasing newly hatched Leatherback sea turtles. They spend November-March monitoring temperatures and turtle nesting so that as soon as the average temperature drops below the point where the freshly-laid eggs will incubate, they can move them into a greenhouse. This allows the eggs to stay warm enough to incubate, and eventually hatch in a safe environment where they can be released into the ocean. The population of these turtles is dwindling fast, but this incredible organization is doing its best to keep them around.
When we arrived at sunset to the greenhouse we found a basket with eight adorable newly-hatched turtles. We cooed and admired and generally fawned over these incredible creatures until someone said, come in the greenhouse and we’ll check if we have any more. The first turtles start hatching in a nest 8-10 weeks after they are laid and it takes about three days for all of the turtles to emerge from the nest. They let the turtles emerge on their own for the first two days, but on the third they help the remaining turtles find their way out of the nest by digging down and bringing up the stragglers. In the wild, these last guys might not be strong enough to make it out of the nest and then all the way down the beach, but this is just one more way that this organization is trying to increase their chances of species survival.
We watched as the organization founder’s daughter, a girl no more than about 10-years-old and fluent in both Spanish and English, dug down and brought up baby turtle after baby turtle. She would hold them up each time for us to admire and take pictures (this was not her first rodeo). She would listen and answer questions asked by the crowd in both Spanish and English. Once she had finished digging through the two nests the total of baby turtles had gone from 8 to 61!!!! They separated them into 6 small buckets and a few of us lucky spectators got to carry them down to the beach where the little guys would be unceremoniously dumped onto the sand and expected to crawl down to the crashing waves and start their harrowing journey out to sea.
The whole experience was an education in how hard it is to be an animal these days. The nesting mothers have had to move further north because of loss of habitat on the beaches in the south of Baja and are now laying eggs in an area where four months of the year their babies won’t even make it out of the nest. But it’s great to see people doing incredible work for the species and teaching people about conservation.
We took what we learned in Baja and were able to apply it this week when KP and I found a lone baby turtle on the beach at Stone Island. We picked the little guy up and took him out a little further into the waves to give him a better chance of getting out to sea. But we had to have a little photo-op first. We hope to see more of these little guys in our travels, and hope that they get the chance to grow up and become the beautiful creatures they are.
Next week we'll finish off our Mazatlán stories and add all the pictures we promised. I'll also put together a possible itinerary of how you can spend a week here and not break the bank!