My first full day in Tecolutla, I decided to visit El Campo de Papa Tortuga. I was excited to see Fernando again, and to let them all know that I had arrived safely. I was unsure of how early the day began here, so I took my time getting ready, and made it to camp around 9:00. When I arrived, the workers and volunteers, about 10 people in total, were just sitting down to breakfast. I was invited to join, and we chatted our way through a lovely meal.
As fortune would have it, I was unexpectedly given the chance to begin the process right away. After eating, Fernando invited me to accompany Luis, one of his regular workers, to check on some nests (nidos) they expect to be hatching about now. Anyone who knows me, would know that is not even a question. So despite being thoroughly unprepared for the day (I was in flip flops, a t shirt and shorts, with half a bottle of water) we headed out. The first leg of our trip was by pickup. They took us a short ways through town and dropped us at the edge of a river. We took the boat pictured here, to cross the river, where we changed to an ATV. An hour and a half of driving on roads led us to a small path to the beach.
Driving about 40 minutes down the beach, we first looked for any new nests. As we drove, Luis pointed out tracks, describing to me whether they were from a Lora, Green, or Kemps Ridley turtle. My spanish is not accurate enough to completely understand exactly how he could tell which is which, but I believe he said that the general size of the marks indicated the species. I plan on asking more about that today. Once we reached the end of the beach, there were no new nests to report. Apparently several turtles had come up onto the beach to check the location, only to turn around and leave to go elsewhere.
With that done, we now retraced our tracks to check on nests that had already been identified and protected by the Tecolutla Turtle Preservation Project (TTPP). We were to check on the viability of each nest, the safety of the eggs, as well as how far along in their development they were. That day, we were checking on nests that had been laid on May 11, giving them 46 days to hatch. Generally, eggs need about 6 weeks to mature. If the hatchlings were ready, we would be able to set them free right then. I couldn't wait.
Luis had a map drawn for each nest as well as the date of when the eggs were laid. As we located the nest, we first needed to dig. Under about 8 inches of sand, a wire mesh was laid to cover the nest and protect it from coyotes or wild dogs that might eat the eggs. (Already the eggs had been moved to this location from their original nesting site, in order to protect them in a more remote location, away from meddling humans.) Once the wire mesh was peeled back, Luis carefully scooped with his hands to find the entrance of the nest. Digging down about 8 more inches, we found about 50 eggs.
Carefully lifting a number of them out, and placing them to the side, Luis inspected them. The eggs appeared discolored, brownish and deflated. Bad news. The eggs in this nest were not viable, with a number of possible causes--sand temperature, plant roots taking too much moisture from the surrounding sand, having been moved too long after they were laid (apparently if eggs are moved more than 30 minutes after they are laid, they will not survive). It's impossible to know for sure what happened here, but with a heavy heart we returned the eggs to teh ground to be absorbed into nature, removing the wire mesh to reuse on another nest. That nest was crossed off the list, and off we went to the next.
Finally, after 3 hours or so, I had a chance to see a hatchling. This little guy is close, but not quite ready yet. In 1 or 2 days he should be strong enough to make the journey. So back in he went to mature in safety, and we will check on him in a day or two.
Finally, just as we were about to head back to the boat, Luis spottted a nest out of the corner of his eye. Following our normal procedure, what a thrill! 2 hatchlings even further along than the previous one! Though they still haven't fully matured, they are almost entirely out of thier shell! Just one more day! So close!
It was thrilling to be so close to what I consider to be miracles of nature. These little guys were so remarkable, I found it humbling to even have the chance to see them, let alone hold one in my hand. Though I didn't have the chance to be part of a liberacion, all told it was an interesting day, full of lots of hard work, hot sun, and the ups and downs of mother nature's process. Overall, once I returned to my hotel, I felt inspired, but utterly exhausted. I grabbed an early dinner, and fell asleep before it was even fully dark out. But I am up now, and ready to do it all over again today! I'll let you know how it goes!