11 Sep Birth of a Sea Turtle: Notes from the beach
With the same clumsiness as their mothers, the small reptiles descend slowly down the sloped beach. One by one they go, leaving behind a trail of life in the sand.
Seven weeks ago, after a journey spanning hundreds, perhaps thousands of kilometers, an adult olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) pushed through the foaming waves on Pejeperro beach in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, to begin an ancient, unique and exquisite journey.
Its shell covered with algae and luminescent organisms, the Olive ridley turtle digs a nest where it deposits the precious fruits of her body. A group of eager volunteers wait patiently around her for the final moment. With a synchronized movement, the mother’s rear flippers turn to form the perfect shape and depth of the egg chamber. Minutes later, the flippers stop, and volunteers shine red lights at the exhausted turtle. At this time, the mother enters a trance state in which nothing and no one will cause her to leave before depositing the last of her eggs. Now researchers and volunteers take advantage of the moment to gather important data about this fascinating reptile. Some palpate and check the animal’s body to make sure she does not have injuries, cancers, or excess parasites (barnacles), while others take measures of its shell and its trace. In a last attempt to learn from this wonderful species, the most experienced researcher places a mark on each of the front flippers of the turtle. This brand will help us identify this particular animal and monitor its future returns to the beach.
Little by little, the turtles move through the sand. Their increments are 20 times shorter than those of their mothers, but the movements are the same: five flaps forward, a short break, and then flapping commences once again. Their encounters with the first waves send them back several meters into the sand, the sea foam covering their little eyes. However, their difficult journey into the sea does not seem to be an obstacle for these determined babies, whose survival instinct makes it appear that this is not the first time they have dealt with this sway of waves and sand. The expressions on the faces of the volunteers and the eyes of the researchers say what words cannot. They tell a story of satisfaction and joy to be part of an effort to conserve the sea turtles of the world.