Thu, 4 Jul 2024

— Ridley Turtles of Mexico.

Please check out these blog postings every few days: I’m part way through my series of stories about each of the turtles I’m photographing, in parallel with my fundraising campaign to finish my upcoming book — I’m hoping to reach my goal in the next two weeks —  Campaign link and information below, thanks in advance!

For a whole week the three of us (my author friend Rod, his assistant Ashleigh and myself) walked the deserted golden sands of Escobilla beach aimlessly, only occasionally coming across a forlorn turtle track. Sometimes, at the break of day, we even spotted the odd female making a tentative appearance out of the surf.  There were plenty of interesting birds to see — flocks of jabiru storks, pink spoonbills, diving pelicans, agile skimmers and much more — but that wasn’t what we had come for. We were here to see the most numerous of all sea turtles on the planet, the Ridley turtle, make their appearance along a deserted stretch of sandy coast in Oaxaca, where Mexico’s curving belly seems to hang down into the Pacific Ocean.  To pass the time, we hired a fishing boat to take us offshore, where we were able to swim with a number of nonchalant Ridley turtles, and even with some mated pairs. But mostly, we waited.

A whole week passed, and with it the new moon that was supposed to presage the big event. Then, just as we were packing to leave, a sort of miracle-of-nature began to unfold. As the sun rose, a handful of Ridley turtles pushed forth through the surfline, their noses pressed to the wet sand as they began scuffling up the beach. Quickly they were followed by several dozen more. Within a couple of hours this initial push had transformed into hundreds, then thousands. Each turtle scrambled to the dry berm at the top of the beach to start digging her nest where she would bury around 100, round, soft-shelled eggs in the warm sand. The ‘arribada’ had begun!

Arribada means ‘arrival’ in Spanish, a term used to describe the mass nesting behavior of the small, mostly oceanic Ridley turtle and its even smaller sister species, the Kemp’s turtle. Nobody has the slightest clue as to what triggers an arribada, yet here they were, assaulting the beach in concerted waves where, over the previous week, they’d just been milling well offshore.

During three entire days and three nights, nonstop, the turtles kept coming, the onslaught slowing down only slightly during the hottest hours of the day (when a few even succumbed to the scorching sun), only to redouble in numbers in the cool of the evening.

The Mexican staff of the small government-run Sea Turtle Protection Camp skipped entire nights of sleep, running hourly surveys to estimate the total numbers of nesting turtles, which are rising year by year. The Mexican army was called in to deter egg poachers. And still the turtles kept coming! They tumbled in the surf, crashing onto the sand, and crawled over each other in a frenzy of purposeful activity. No doubt their tactic arose from the need to outnumber the many land predators that would have once stalked this coast, from jaguars to peccaries, crocodiles to racoons.

I found myself running around in a nearly manic state, trying to capture this megalomaniac scene on camera, with limited success. I used my widest lenses and shot under dark clouds, bright sunrises, painted sunsets and in the dead of night, when my biggest challenge was taking a 30-second time exposure without some turtle bowling over my tripod. In the end, sleep-deprived but buzzing from the excitement of witnessing such an unimaginable natural phenomenon, I felt dizzy with an overdose of emotions. How could nature dish up such an incredible spectacle?

In those three days, some 300,000 turtles were estimated to have nested on less than two of the 20 miles of beach here at Escobilla, with nary a tourist in sight!

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The following year I was back, eager to fly my new drone over the entire panorama, and I wasn’t disappointed. This time the arribada lasted a full five days, nonstop. And this time, the numbers that were estimated, trying to remain conservative, became blurred when the tally began to approach half a million female Ridleys nesting in one gigantic, living tsunami.

And to think that up until 1990, when Mexico declared them a protected species, these very same turtles were slaughtered to the tune of 3,000 per day for six months of the year (caught offshore when not nesting), for their meat, eggs and skin to turn into leather. In the years leading to that milestone, during the late 1980s, only around one tenth of the numbers I witnessed now in barely five days had nested during an entire season!

Such a splendid reminder that, given the slightest chance, sea turtles are as resilient today as they were all those millions of years ago when they survived the dinosaurs.

As you can imagine, despite being as frugal as possible in my repeated travels into the ‘world of turtles’, getting all these images
is proving to be an expensive proposition. 

If you’ve enjoyed these and my previous turtle blog sample images then please check out my Kickstarter Fundraising Campaign and especially the incentive gift rewards I’m offering… 

I’m gradually closing in my target figure but since it’s an all-or-nothing goal, every donation, however small, will ultimately help me achieve the photographic results I’m aiming for.  

My campaign notes feature many more images and a lot of information, plus I regularly post updates to my supporters.
Look it up via the following link…  And remember to return to this blog site for more lively stories of individual
turtle encounters in the days to come…