Worth the wait!

Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
Trip End Apr 28, 2010

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Last night, we finally made it out to try and see turtles.  We joined a group of 19 other people who were eagerly awaiting the tour, and watched a 30 minute video presentation about the Olive Ridley turtles that nest in this area.  These are the smallest sea turtles in the area, but they also tend to nest in the largest groups.  The beach outside of San Juan del Sur has "arrivals" where all the turtles come in large groups.  A single night can have as many as 27,000 turtles, and during the nesting season, theyīll have anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 females come ashore to lay a nest.  The females then lay approximately 100 eggs each. 

Although weīre in the right season, we knew ahead of time that we wouldnīt be there during one of the mass arrivals -- theyīre expecting the next group around the 8th of this month, after the full moon passes. 

After the presentation, we set out for a bumpy, hot ride to the beach.  Although itīs only about 13 miles away, the drive took nearly an hour.  At the ranger station, we got our first surprise.  A few of the nests had actually hatched earlier, during the day.  This is a bad idea for the turtles, as there are far more predators during the day, and sure enough, these nests were immediately attacked by predatory birds.  As a result, the rangers had chased away the birds, and collected the baby turtles in baskets.  Our first job for the evening was to carry the baskets down to the shore, line up parallel to the ocean, and release the little baby turtles one by one.  That was fun!  The little turtles fit easily into the palm of your hand, but theyīre energetic and ready to go, and you can feel an amazing amount of strength in them as they pull themselves along. 

After the last hatchlings were making their way towards the waves, the guide got a signal from the ranger, and we quickly made our way down to the beach.  On the way, we passed fresh tracks in the sand -- earlier that evening, a new mother had made her way up onto shore and back out into the ocean.

When we arrived where the ranger was waiting, we saw a new nest hatching.  The eggs are buried deep in the sand, so you donīt actually see the turtles come out of the eggs.  What you see is the little turtles emerge in a group from underneath the sand -- a process that can take anywhere from two to three days!  They work together as a team, climbing over each otherīs backs to get out, and we watched the last 15 minutes of this process as they made it through the final layers of sand.  Once the last babies were out, they turned in a big group (I counted 40 babies, although some had already left) and started making their way towards the ocean.  Amazing!!!

Meanwhile, the patrolling ranger had returned back the other direction, and was signaling again.  We headed back quickly, but then suddenly came to a complete stop.  Up ahead, we could clearly see a turtle leaving the surf and heading up onto the beach.  As a group, we paused and sat on a section of beach while the guide went to investigate.  As it turned out, the signal had been for a mother coming ashore, but now there were two.  We waited and watched as the closer turtle came further ashore, wandered a bit to find the best spot, and began to dig.  According to the guide, the turtles nest not only on the same beach that they were born, but in the same spot -- itīs believed that they build their nest within 10 meters of the place they were born. 

When the mothers were contently digging, we divided into two groups, with one group heading to each turtle.  From behind, we watched her finish digging her hole, and then drop the eggs, two or three at a time, into the nest.  When she finished, she pushed the sand back in to cover them, then went through a remarkably complicated process of finishing up, which took longer than the actual laying.  First she did what could almost be described as a little dance, wiggling back and forth and using  her back legs and all her might to pound the sand flat, and compress it over the eggs.  Then she adjusted the sand not only over the nest, but over an area about 5 times that size, so as to camoflouge the exact location of the eggs.  When she was done, she finally turned around and headed back to the sea.  She stopped every few feet, and you could actually hear the turtle breathing in heavy breaths from the effort. 

After we stood and watched her swim away, we headed back to the office.  On the way back, we passed a fresh set of tracks where a third turtle had arrived and left while we were watching the first two.  We also found a tiny baby turtle from a completely different nest who was trapped on the way back to the sea.  In this area, crabs burrow little holes the same size as baby turtles.  When the turtles fall into these holes, as this baby had done, they often become a meal.  We stopped to watch the baby and cheer it on as it managed to pull itself out of the hole and head back to the water.  Finally, we passed unexpectedly by yet another mother in the process of digging herself a hole.  Like the others, she hadnīt been there the first time we passed by.

In all, we saw one nest hatching, three moms laying, one stray baby, two sets of additional tracks, and two basketfulls of hatchlings from earlier in the day -- it was absolutely amazing!

Well worth the wait.
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knaert on


vivacious09 on

Sounds amazing! No pictures?

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