The night we went to the beach to look for a mother turtle was magical.
We were led by Eddie, a young Italian biologist working among fisherman on the Nicoya peninsula. His mission is to educate them about sustainable fishing as well as to do his part in preserving the sea turtles.
There were no lights other than the red light from his headlamp. Brighter lights disturb the turtles. It was a perfect clear night, and the multitude of stars seemed low enough to reach out and touch.
As we walked almost blindly, there were what seemed to be a lot of rocks or shells. Eddie shone the light at our feet and we were simultaneously delighted and horrified to see thousands of small hermit crabs scurrying around! It was impossible not to step on them, but Eddie said that our weight would just push them into the sand.
Finally, Eddie told us he had spotted an Olive Ridley turtle, but we all needed to stay back while she dug her hole. When she began laying, he said, she would go into a trance and wouldn’t be aware of our presence. When he said we could, we circled around her and watched in wonder. It’s hard to see in this picture, and you can google and see lots of clear pictures, but this is me sharing my experience of this amazing act of nature.
As we stood in awe, Eddie informed us that he had discovered that the turtle was missing a back rudder, and he suspected that the hole wasn’t deep enough. Turtle eggs are highly susceptible to predators such as raccoons and dogs, who often steal them as they are laid or shortly after. So he said that when she was finished, we would dig them up and relocate them to a deeper nest in a safer place on the beach.
After the eggs were laid, she covered them with sand, and, turning in circles, patted the sand down. This took about 20 minutes, and we could see that she was hindered by her lack of a rudder. We followed her as she made her way in the starlight to the ocean, cheering for her as she reached the water, never to see the fruit of her labor.
Eddie immediately started digging up the nest, and allowed someone in the group to assist. We were all awestruck as the count went up and up until the total of eggs was 108! The eggs were placed in a bag and passed around so we could all feel it’s weight – quite heavy! Imagine the work – this sea animal, beautiful in the water but awkward on land, hauling her already heavy body, made even heavier with these eggs,50 feet over land before releasing them from her body and returning to the sea.
While we were engrossed in the task of rescuing these eggs, Eddie spotted another turtle. By the time the last egg was recovered from the first nest, the second turtle had begun laying. We again watched the act with a reverent awe, and as this mother, with all her flippers intact, began her dance of covering the precious eggs, we could see the perfection. She patted, and twirled, and rested a bit, then repeated this over and over until she was satisfied with her work.
After we cheered her on her return trek to the ocean, it was somewhat anticlimactic to watch Eddie locate a spot to rebury the eggs. It was all a wonder, though, and I will always hold that night in my heart as one of the most amazing I have ever experienced.
Here is a link to a youtube video of an Olive Ridley giving birth, covering the eggs, and going back to the sea. It is very cool, but doesn’t capture the magic of being there on the dark beach under the blanket of stars being a part of the mystery of life.