Near the top of my Bucket List which includes a helicopter ride and sailing around the Greek islands is releasing baby turtles…and I got to strike that off my list this week…for my birthday!
Sea turtles love the tropics, and Olive Ridleys come to Baja California Sur to lay their eggs throughout the year. The eggs do fine for most of the year but not during the winters. Its too cold here for the eggs to incubate and so there is a 0% survival rate for winter nests if left to nature.
Francesca and her volunteers are making a difference for the turtles that lay their eggs near Todos Santos between Dec-March each year. For the last 10 years the world’s only green house turtle nursery has kept the temperature of the sand within its perimeter warm enough so that the eggs have an 80% chance of incubating.
With as little interaction as possible between turtle/eggs and humans, people are able to observe and help in releasing baby turtles back into the Pacific Ocean. In celebration of 3 of our birthdays this month, and all 3 of us having ‘releasing baby turtles’ on our individual Bucket Lists LINKS…that’s exactly what we made happen this week.
To say that it’s been MAGICAL is a bit of an understatement.
First night we were just spectators, like the other 20 or 30 people who showed up before sunset to learn and participate in releasing baby turtles. The second night releasing baby turtles coincided with a stunning sunset, whales breaching, dolphins swimming past. Incredible!
Our unschooling family suddenly became thoroughly engaged in the whole turtle-nesting-releasing process…so we stayed for a week, learning an incredible amount about turtles, but also watching our young children take charge and gain confidence speaking in public. I could never orchestrate all that has transpired this week; there always seems to be some resistance when things are planned more than when they naturally transpire. So the learning this week has been awesome, without any prodding from us parents. But then, that’s what unschooling is about. Its been nothing but delight-directed.
Here’s a sampling of what we learned about Turtugueros Las Playitas and sea turtles (specifically about Olive Ridley) :
Turtugueros Las Playitas was started 10 years. It is registered with the Mexican gov’t as a non-profit They hold a permit to dig up turtle eggs, incubate and release them. There are about 100 turtle nests laid along this stretch of beach.
Francesca and other volunteers go out every night between Dec-March riding quads in search of turtle tracks. When they locate a nest they carefully dig up the eggs, keeping count of the eggs and keeping each clutch separate from the others. The eggs are then re-laid in a numbered nest inside of the greenhouse. Pertinent data is recorded and reported as necessary.
The temperature of the sand inside of the greenhouse is consistently 4C degrees warmer than the sand outside. This is the difference between 0% fertile eggs (outside) to 80% (inside) during the winter months.
Olive Ridley turtles mate once a year starting around 12-15 years of age. The female suspends semen and uses it to fertilize up to 4 clutches of eggs per year, each consisting of 80-120 eggs. The temperature during incubation determines the gender of the baby turtle.
- twenty-six to twenty-eight degrees will result in males;
- thirty to thirty-two degrees will be female;
- twenty-nine degrees is a 50/50 proposition.
The female comes up on the beach under the darkness of night to lay her eggs. After laying fertile eggs she will cover them with sand and place a layer of false eggs on top…a possible sacrifice to ferrel dogs or coyotes or any other predator. Mama turtle waddles away into the night waters, never to see her babies. The eggs take 45-55 days to hatch. Once the first turtle emerges from the nest the rest of the clutch usually hatches within the next 2-3 days. There is a risk that emerging turtles will puncture false eggs which can cause them to drown.
The baby turtle has a food sack attached to its body…what we would think of as an egg sack. They will absorb the nutrients from this during their emergence.
Whether the turtles are released by humans or they wander down to the waters edge on their own, the next 48 hours are treacherous and risky. They have the tumbling surf to traverse, preying birds and porpoises to avoid, and the challenge of locating something, anything, floating that they can cling onto. This float will be their home base for the next 10 years or so. They will catch a ride in a current heading south to warmer waters.
At first the little guy will eat algae from the plastic bottle, driftwood or whatever it has called “home”. This will provide protection from predators from below as it will camouflage its silhouette. Eventually it will explore further away from home in search of food such as jellyfish and crabs (favourites); they are omnivores. They will spend most of their life in open ocean although they will sometimes come into bays and even the occasional estuary.
Mating turtles will head back to the beach of their birth (an amazing feat in nature…always amazes me). Olive Ridley’s live 80-100 years growing to a length of about 0.6m (2-2.5 ft) and weighing in at 34-45kg (75-100 lbs)… one of the smallest of all turtles. They are the most abundant species, however their numbers have suffered greatly since the 1960’s. Numbers here on Baja are increasing, fortunately.
Threats to the turtles come in the form of degradation of nesting beaches (i.e. coastal development & subsequent erosion), incidental capture in fishing gear, and human consumption (of turtles and eggs).
We have thoroughly enjoyed our week camping out here beside the turtle nursery, volunteering throughout the day and watching the little creatures scuttle towards the crashing waves every night, releasing baby turtles. Its been a dream come true!
This week our kids have fallen in love with baby turtles, and will likely return to volunteer here (or somewhere else) for releasing baby turtles.
And who knows, maybe one of their futures will be centered around the protection and preservation of sea turtles, or some other environmental cause. One never knows.
There was so much more to our week with the turtles. You’ll have to checkout our YT video and see the ups and downs of the week, and where did we find Vida?
PS…I can’t upload videos right now to YouTube so I’ll do it once I’m back in Canada. Oh, you didn’t know? Our daughter Layne…yeah the one that we went to Canada for her wedding…well, she’s having her first baby around April Fool’s Day. No, I’m not fooling. She’s growing the belly, feeling the baby…I’m missing it all but I’m going “home” for the birth. Yes, excited. And I’ll use faster uploading internet once I’m there. Until then
…I love my life. Hope you’re loving yours.
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