Tue, 9 Jul 2024

— Hatchlings and Conservation.

It’s the 11th hour, I’ve very nearly fulfilled my Fundraising Goal!!!

I’m hoping that with this, the last blog in my current TURTLES series,
you may be moved to help me over the line, THANK YOU!

Eons of evolution have endowed sea turtles with the precise math that enables each female, over the course of her lifetime (a span of decades we are still unsure of), to produce exactly the correct multiples of thousands of eggs that may ensure that just two adults, on average, end up replacing herself and her mate in order to keep the population stable.  When the tiny babies, incubated by nothing more than the sun, emerge unaided from their sandy nests, they carry just barely enough muscle tissue and energy reserves to face a myriad odds stacked against them. Yet somehow they still ensure that one-in-a-thousand, or maybe an 1/10,000 may further the lineage. It sounds miraculous, but it’s true.

In Galapagos I’ve watched enraptured as baby Green turtles (which hatch black, with a white trim edging their shell and flippers) poke tiny noses through the white sand, then hold perfectly still while they await nightfall to make their mad dash towards the sea. They still bore the sharp little ‘egg tooth’ that enabled them to cut through the eggshell and free themselves in the nest chamber. To reach this far, they had to have worked together in spurts of frenetic activity, together collapsing the roof of the chamber from within so that the entire brood can break the surface as one.

Every imaginable predator absolutely loves to eat turtle hatchlings, from birds (herons, hawks, frigatebirds, storks, terns, vultures, crows and many more) to mammals (racoons, coyotes, coatimundis, peccaries, bobcats, etc), as well as reptiles (crocodiles, iguanas, snakes), and even invertebrates (ghost crabs and sally-lightfoot crabs amongst them).

For those who make it past the beach, more predators await, from sharks to snappers and everything in between. No wonder that the hatchlings, whatever the species, are born with an indomitable urge to frantically leave the land behind, putting as much distance between them and their natal beach. In the open ocean, it may be surprising to learn that predators are fewer and more dispersed. And if the little turtle, travelling alone, finds a patch of floating seaweed such as sargassum, this will provide not only cover but also a habitat in which to hunt tiny invertebrates.

I’ve been in Florida when the baby loggerheads make their dash to the sea, tumbling into human footprints in the sand that, to them, might as well be meteor craters. In Mexico the arrival into this world of the tiny Ridley turtles was met, ironically, by the very real danger of being inadvertently reburied, when a new arribada brought thousands of adult turtles barging their way ashore to nest, flattening everything in their path! 

On the island of Trinidad, I returned a second time to witness the emergence of the Leatherbacks. The eggs being laid in quite wet sand, the whole clutch had to work in close unison to break out, first the little heads appearing tightly packed, then bursting out like a flower opening in an accelerated timelapse. 

Even at birth, these turtles look very different from other species, with elegant white stripes running the full length of their bodies — their carapace and flippers made to travel the oceans, literally to the ends of the earth

Their little faces too already spoke of their oceanic lifestyle, with needle-sharp fanglike structures all ready to start slicing into the first (tiny) jellyfish they might encounter.

Larger than other species, they were still no match for the hordes of vultures who crowded the beach to intercept them. But here, like in more and more places where turtles nest, people made sure to safeguard and protect just as many as they could.  Under the watchful eyes of the Grande Riviere Guides, children and tourists alike patrolled the beaches for any daytime hatchlings, gathering them into holding pens to be liberated under the cover of darkness, when predators are fewer. 

Of the many places where I have seen the magic of turtles hatching, nowhere was this process more mind-boggling than the tremendous efforts put into saving the Kemp’s turtles of Rancho Nuevo. As described in my earlier blog (number 5 in this series), what I witnessed there was truly conservation work executed on an industrial scale

Sebastian is a little boy whose grandmother cooks for the hard-working team saving Mexico’s Kemp’s turtles; he’s becoming one of the dedicated turtle-saviors of tomorrow.

Please help me tell his story by pitching in on my fundraiser.

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Stay tuned for further blogs and updates from the World of Turtles…
but right now I’m heading back into the field, cameras in hand, all ready for my next ventures — Yucatán (Hawksbill turtles) here I come.

Thank you for your support.