Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause. ~Bruce Feiler
Watching a turtle arribada (massive arrival of turtles) has been on my bucket list for some time. Monday night, during a strong thunder and lightning storm along with heavy rain, we saw hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles arrive on the shore of La Flor beach to lay their eggs. Take a walk with us on the wild side.
I researched the best time to see an arribada which is between the last quarter of the moon and the new moon, made reservations to stay at Parque Maritimo on El Coco beach, and called Francisco, our awesome taxi driver, to take us to La Flor. We crossed our fingers and I would have been happy to see one turtle nesting…BUT, we were in for a huge surprise:
The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) announced that 35,087 endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles have arrived at their nesting grounds in the Chacocente and La Flor Wildlife Refuges. Yeffer Cruz, technical director of Chacocente said that, “Yes, there was a delay. Obviously climate change delayed the arrival; fishing with explosives also had an effect, but they are arriving massively as they do every year.” Indeed he said that little by little the numbers are increasing due to conservation and enforcement measures. He noted, “In 2000, 26,000 turtles arrived and now there are many more.” MARENA delegate for the Department of Rivas Mario Jose Rodriguez said that an inter-agency cooperation plan for protection of the turtles includes roadblocks at strategic points in the region to inspect vehicles and confiscate eggs. Volunteers walk the turtle nesting grounds to prevent theft of the eggs. Law enforcement officials patrol the bars and restaurants to prevent the sale of turtle eggs which many people consider a delicacy. (El Nuevo Diario, Sept. 30)
Monday night, we went to La Flor Wildlife Reserve and bought discounted tickets because we are residents of Nicaragua. Oh, no! There weren’t any numbers on the September 2013 chart. Would we see any turtles on the last day of September?
Walking to the beach with red cellophane over our flashlights ( so we wouldn’t disturb the turtles) I could see a dark bump in the sand. Looking to my left, then right, I noticed hundreds of bumps in the sand. The Olive Ridley turtles were arriving!
The small, olive colored sea turtles gathered off shore in a large group. Then, they rode the waves ashore….thousands of them. No one really knows what triggers an arribada. Our guide told us they always return to the beach where they hatched and always during the darkest time of the moon.
During their nesting time, each Olive Ridley will lay about 110 eggs. The eggs plop one at a time, then two at a time, then three at a time until the shallow hole is full. See the egg being gently released?
The nest fills up quickly. Mama Olive Ridley will lay 3 clutches per year, each with 110 eggs. While she was laying her eggs, I could take flash photos because Ms. Olive was in a trance and nothing would bother her.
Then the Olive Ridley shoved the sand over the shallow nest with her flippers and patted down the nest by thumping her body against the sand…over and over and over. There was a lot of thumping going on at the beach. After about an hour, the turtle returned to the sea.
During our visit, the rain rhythmically pelted the backs of the turtles, while the lightning flashed and the thunder boomed. With each flash of lightning, we glimpsed hundreds of turtles arriving, laying, and leaving. It was the most incredible sight!
The turtles are marked with different colors of paint, so they can be identified with each arribada. Since there are many predators and one hatchling is lucky to survive, workers gather each nest and move the eggs to the porch of the Wildlife Reserve. Then, 50-60 days later, the nests are carried back to the beach and when the hatchlings emerge, they are gently ushered to the sea.
When a friend of mine visited La Flor, she took these photos of egg poachers and sent them to the La Flor Reserve. Stealing the eggs continues to be a problem in La Flor as well as other beaches where arribadas occur. Turtle eggs are considered to be a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. People living in poverty depend on the traditions of selling and eating the eggs to make a living.
I hope you enjoyed a walk on the wild side with us. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. What’s next on my bucket list? Whale watching.