The Turtle Sanctuary

Yesterday, we volunteers visited the turtle sanctuary on the Pacific coast of Colima State – the Tortugeria. The life cycle of the sea turtles is fraught with danger from the environment and from predators, including those with 4 legs, 2 legs and those with wings. The environmentalists of the Tortugeria work very intensively to preserve the many species of sea turtles and to educate the public.

Some of the turtles are kept in large tanks at the facility for breeding purposes and for scientific study. When they lay the eggs, or a nest is found on the beach, the eggs are dug up and brought to a protected enclosure on the beach where they can reach maturity in safety.

Unprotected sites on the beach are subject to dogs and humans (and maybe other creatures) digging them up. Once hatched, the babies are picked off by birds.  In the natural course of events, most of the eggs and hatchlings do not survive to make it to the safety of the sea.

The eggs are initially deposited in a hole with a depth equal to about the length of the adult turtle’s flipper. They are laid all at one level, not piled up on top of one another. This insures that the heat in the nest is equally distributed among the eggs. Too much heat and the embryos will die. And so, when they are re-buried in the sanctuary’s safe area, they are laid out in one layer at the proper depth.

A pole is placed at the nest with a tag indicating the date and how many eggs are in the nest. It is expected that after 45 days, the eggs will hatch, and they hatch all at once. When the turtles hatch, the number of hatchlings are counted and collected. The nest is then cleaned of the broken shells and other detritus.

The newborns are then carefully handled on the sides of their shells. You have to have completely clean hands – no hint of chemical odors of any kind, including skin cream or suntan lotion, as it will affect their ability to come back to the same beach as adults. There are also two white lines of some substance on their bellies that help them gather chemical scents from the sand and sea, and the memories of these scents are somehow embedded in their internal biochemical homing systems.

There were 15 hatchlings yesterday, and the volunteers were allowed to release them. To prepare for the turtle release, the environmentalists first drew two lines in the sand at the shore. Volunteers had to stand between the lines and gently place the turtles between the second line and the water.

As soon as they were gently put down, the babies valiantly struggled to make their way into the ocean (remember they have flippers, not arms and legs). A few made it right away, and some were bounced around by the surf, pushed back up the beach until they got close enough for the surf to carry them out to sea. All the while, a bird was circling overhead, but I imagine the sight of so many humans kept it, and any of its friends, from attempting to make a meal of the baby turtles.

This was my third time to visit the sanctuary, and each time I learn a little bit more, but this was the first time that I have actually seen a release. For many of our sponsored students, this will be the first time they have actually seen the ocean and learned about the magnificent sea turtles and about the environment and conservation. So, once again, please visit our web site and learn about how we are promoting education to eliminate poverty in Mexico and consider sponsoring a child.  You can click on the link  http://www.projectamigo.org

1. Conservationist holding a hatchling

2. Protected nests in the sand with poles marking their spots

3.Hatchlings heading for the sea

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