Sunday, January 8, 2012

Our New Years Gift; Tortuga Hatchlings

Red Sky at Muertos
As the New Year approached, our weather window to cross the Sea opened and once again were were happily tucked into the anchorage at Ensenada de los Muertos. The clear water, white sandy beach, diving pelicans, local fisherman casting nets from their pangas, and the spectacular rosy red sunsets we have grown accustomed to expect here were all present. No surprises our first day. The next morning we ran Spark on the beach as promised when we saw a small of group of Mexicans excitedly waving us to join them.


Darrell Holds a Tortuga Hatchling
We immediately leashed Spark and watched with amazement as the sand all around us started to move. About 100 hatchlings crawling to the water after a 2 month incubation buried in sand. No mama to help guide them to sea, which they must reach fairly quickly to avoid being seared by the hot sun or eaten by prey. This is the reason that most hatchlings occur at night, but these little guys popped out in the morning light, reducing their chances of survival to less than 1%.

The New Years Gift
Curious Spark
A young woman held up a precious small leathery baby in her hand to me. Honored, I accepted the gift. If I ever loved Ensenada de los Muertos before, this special spot is now sacred to me. It’s an emotional experience launching new life, I carefully carried the newborn to its new home. Releasing the hatchling, I watched it flap around in circles until it found its natural stroke and swam away. I felt like a proud mama. Over and over we began picking up babies and carrying them safely to the Sea. Down the strip of white beach we could see baby sea turtles floundering this way and that as they tried to get their bearings. Their flippers are designed for propelling through water, making their way through a beach strewn with rocks and shells is a challenge. Not to mention the challenge of escaping hungry hovering pelicans and sea gulls. After a short time the water was filled with little black turtles swimming out to Sea. For the next 24 to 48 hours there is a “swim frenzy” in which the hatchlings frantically seek deeper water.

Sea turtles can grow to 6 feet in length and weigh up to 1,200 pounds! 

It is almost always at night that the adult female sea turtle goes ashore and digs a hole 16 to 20 inches deep and deposits her eggs.  After laying, she re-fills the nest with sand, smoothing and shaping the surface until it is almost undetectable visually. The whole process takes her nearly an hour, when her mission is complete she returns to the ocean, leaving the eggs untended.

Sparky says "Safe Travels"
The WWF reports that six of the seven species of sea turtles are listed as endangered or critically endangered, and the outlook is grim. Sea turtles are threatened by humans who harvest turtle eggs and the resulting destruction of nesting beaches. There is also a black-market demand for turtle meat and tortoise shells. Warmer sea temperatures and increasingly severe storms destroy nesting beaches and damage nests. The gender of the hatchling is determined after the egg is laid by the temperature of the sand, higher temperatures yield more females. Less males means less reproduction. Sea turtles are also vulnerable to oil pollution. Oil enters the turtles digestive system and poisons them. In addition to increasingly fragile ecosystems, a significant threat comes from “bycatch” due to imprecise fishing methods. Sea turtles must surface to breathe. Caught in a fisherman’s net, they are unable to surface and thus drown. Sea turtles also become tangled in abandoned nets.
It is illegal to drive motorized vehicles on the beach because of the threat to sea turtle nests
Mexico environmental agencies and non-profits are becoming more proactive in sea turtle conservation, protection, and release programs. Last year while we were in Bahia de Tenacatita we saw eggs that had been relocated to fenced pens and kept safe until the hatchlings are ready to be released. In an effort to protect sea turtle nests on Baja’s East Cape, motorized vehicles are forbidden on the beach at Ensenada de los Muertos. Nonetheless, as more gringos build luxury homes, the numbers of resorts increase, and the Baja economy grows, more and more people are ignoring the law and driving motorcycles and 3 wheelers on the beaches creating further risk to sea turtle survival.

Fun? The Tortugas disagree.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful experience and heart wrenching to know what the turtles go through. Thankfully, good people are watching out for them!