Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Turtle Time at the Flower Refuge Part 2

Eco ocean recently visited Nicaragua and enjoyed some inspiring interaction with the local marine fauna. This is Part 2 of 4. Part One

Contemplating turtles, I arrived at the Hostel and the lobby was filled with people from other countries wearing shorts, t shirts, and some kind of sport sandal.  Canadians and people from Nordic countries seemed to dominate, rounded out by a few Germans and Americans. One couple from Iceland seemed unusually excited, probably because they’re not in Iceland in December.

Our earnest lecturer who looked like any of the tourists, pointed out that one in 1,000 turtles live to see adulthood. The ridiculously poor odds start with a gauntlet of predators. Hungry birds, fish, small mammals, and the most devastating predator of all: Humans, of course.  Human poachers like to reach in and steal eggs almost as soon as they are laid by the large, docile females. Turtle egg soup is a delicacy and for some, a staple.

If infant turtles avoid being made into soup, if they make it out of the egg and off the beach, they go out into the sea as big as a man’s palm and return years later the size of a large truck tire to lay eggs on the same beach they were hatched. Apparently, they find their way using Earth’s magnetic fields.

While swimming thousands of miles to make it back to the beach, they need to survive an obstacle course of human hazards. With luck or pluck they escape trawlers raking the bottom of the ocean with massive nets and iron gear, they slip through turtle excluder devices built into other giant nets, and avoid taking the bait and then drowning on long lines suspended in the middle of the ocean strung with thousands of hooks. They also persevere through pollution and manage not to choke on plastic trash. I begin to see turtles as the epitome of improbabilities. Superstars, really.

Our lecturer still hedged on whether or not we would actually see any turtles on this night. An American guy blurted out the direct question in front of everyone, asking if we would definitely see turtles, even though before we even paid for this trip they gave us a firm and consistent “maybe” or “quizas”. 

It is the tail end of the turtle season so chances are slim. Like many things natural, when turtles lay eggs or hatch, it is not exactly clockwork although it is rhythmic for sure. It is the realm of tides and seasons and moon cycles, not hours and minutes.

It’s one thing to travel to a sleepy republic like Nicaragua and successfully derail yourself from the urban train of doing, doing, doing, so common up North. It’s another thing altogether – further in the right direction – to find that lovely, natural pace.  Turtle time, I started calling it. I doubt anyone in the group was running on turtle time but good for them if they were. For me, I’m lucky if I can find the patience to wait an extra twenty seconds for the waiter to get my bill.

Turtle time starts when the female Olive Ridley struggles ashore with her flippers, pushing her large green-grey carapace across the sand. She painstakingly, one flipper scoop of sand at a time, digs a deep hole, about two feet into the earth. Finally, she lays her glistening eggs on the bottom like a layer of very large pearls. Then she buries them.

So before they even see the night, breathe the night air, find the ocean, dodge the hungry beasts, they must dig their way out of a hole. With the tiny turtles about four inches in length, it’s probably akin to a six foot person climbing out of a thirty six foot deep pit of sand after being buried in it, although I did no real math to come up with that comparison.

Mom of course is long gone when the infant turtles emerge. She laid the eggs forty or so days ago and left that same morning. They’re on their own and have too much to do to have Mommy issues. When you stack up all the improbabilities it’s hard not to cheer on this underdog of underdogs.

Read more about the refuge.  

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