Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Turtle Release

Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, Mexico
January 4, 2010

Just think: one day old, you have a 10 day supply of food and you must make into the ocean (about 50 yards) and swim 10 nautical miles to the safety of the kelp forests at Tres Mariettas. Did I mention that you are only about 2 inches long and birds think you are the perfect snack? That's what faces the newborn Olive Ridley turtles that are hatching right now in Nuevo Vallarta.
Due to the excellent tour directing of our friend Behan Gifford (we will be calling her Julie McCoy henceforth), a large group of cruisers from the La Cruz anchorage journeyed to Nuevo Vallarta on Monday night and "helped" release over a hundred Olive Ridely hatch-lings into Banderas Bay. These guys are so cute you wouldn't believe it. They are about 2 inches long and all flippers. They instinctively headed toward the sun, so the release happens at sunset to get them going right into the water (not to mention, it is a beautiful setting for the event). Most of the kids and some of the adults named their releasees and there was alot of cheering as the little guys headed toward the water. We were not allowed to render any more assistance than setting them on the ground, because they need to take in every piece of information about the sand and its location, so that they can navigate their way back when it is time to lay their own eggs. There has been research to indicate that the turtle will return to with 50 yards of where the entered the water to make their nest. What an experience for us all! Even though the odds are tough (about 2 in 100 return to nest), the mass releases every night should help better the odds. It was obvious that the snack-hungry birds were not willing to come anywhere near the big group of humans, so at least the corridor to the waves was "safe" for the little guys. Then it is up to the little guys to swim about 10 nautical miles to a group of islands called Tres Mariettas at the outer edge of Bahia de Banderas. Once there, the kelp that surrounds the islands provides refuge and is also home to the smaller creatures that will help the turtles grow to about 100 lbs.
There is a non-profit group that works along the beachfront hotels to move turtle nests to their small "nursery" where the turtles can finish developing and hatch without being bothered by the humans or most of their predators. The tourist development in the turtles favorite nesting site means that there is almost constant human contact. If this contact is in the form of unintended disturbing nests or just plain old human curiosity, it is not so good. With the work of the biologists, the contact now comes in the form of moving and protecting the nests. They patrol the beach every night and respond to calls during the day. The nightly turtle releases serve to raise awareness about the turtles among the beach guests and are also an opportunity for the organization to raise some funds to add to their shoestring budget.

Kids checking out a maze drawn on the beach

Austin and Niall walking on the beach

The turtle protection facility

Josh, Bryce, Mairen, Niall and Austin at the Turtle Tub

Bryce and Austin ready to release their turtles

Turtles heading for the water

Off toward the sunset and the waves

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