…and Campamento Tortuguero Boca de Tomates efforts to increase their numbers.
Other smarter-than-me sources of information:
In another blog, I wrote about my introduction to the turtle camp (full name Campamento Tortuguero Boca de Tomates) and experiences with releasing baby turtles to the sea (click here if interested). The blog you are reading here will provide information about the Olive Ridley sea turtle that is the focus of the camp’s efforts; a third blog will provide some more in-depth information about the camp itself.
In addition to the information found in the public domain (links above), I learned the following from the pre-release educational sessions at the camp:
- The Olive Ridley turtles have been coming to the Bahia de Banderas for 150 million years.
- Olive Ridleys return to the same beach where they hatched to lay their eggs. Thus, hatchlings are released at different locations along the 3-4 mile stretch of beach monitored by the camp volunteers.
- When mating, the male and female may be joined for up to 48 hours.
- The biggest threat to the nests are human poachers. The eggs are used both for food and for sale on the black market (they are considered an aphrodisiac due to the male’s, shall we say, endurance during the mating process).
- Other poachers along this stretch of beach are raccoons (in increasing numbers thanks to man’s encroachment – beach hotels and seaside living are creating more yummy garbage to forage) – and loose dogs (an ongoing issue in the area as there are no “leash laws”).
- During high season, the volunteers can recover as many as 10, 15 or even 20 nests in a night.
- If there are impediments on the beach such as piles of trash that the mothers cannot get around, they may dig the nest below the high tide mark or even return to sea and dump their eggs there. One of the primary jobs in the summer rainy season is clearing the beach of the trash and deadwood that wash down from the mountains into the sea, and is eventually deposited on the beach.
- When mothers are spotted nesting, the spot is marked. When she has finished and returned to the sea, the volunteers recover the nest and move the eggs to the hatchery where they are kept in a more protected environment.
- At the camp, each nest is marked with the date recovered and number of eggs.
- The Olive Ridley’s eggs hatch approximately 35 – 45 days after the mama lays them. If a nest reaches 100 days without hatching, the eggs are considered non-viable, dug up and disposed of to prevent bacterial threats to remaining nests.
- The sex of the Olive Ridley babies is determined by the temperature of the sand the eggs incubate in – warmer temperatures produce mostly females, and cooler temperatures produce a majority of males. There is a pivotal temperature that produces an equal ratio of males and females.
- Babies hatch with a small yolk sac that is their food source for the first 2-3 days of life.
- Once released from the holding bins onto the sand, the babies don’t just run out to the sea. It’s a stop and go process while they bond with their beach – after all, they will need to find their way back here in a few years for mating!
- When viewing the babies in bins or on the sand, it’s important that our cameras do NOT HAVE A FLASH or other light. This creates a “false moon” for them and interferes with their bonding process.
- Once a baby successfully reaches the sea it has to learn to swim, air breath, deep-dive and find food.
- In nature, the babies hatch and immediately start their journey to the sea. But it’s a no-man’s land in the area between the nest and the water where animal and flying predators lay in wait. Once in the water the babies face more predators – thus their overall chances of survival is slim.
- The main reason the baby turtles are released starting at sunset is because the frigate bird hunting activity slows down at dusk.
- The mission of the camp’s activities can be summarized as “protect as many nests as possible and help the maximum number of hatchlings get safely to the sea”. The value of the camp and its volunteers is that the more turtles they can help hatch safely and get into the water, the higher the number of surviving adults.
- Estimates are that with conservation efforts such as this camp, the survival rate of the baby Olive Ridley is increased from 1 adult out of 1000 eggs to 1 adult for every 100 eggs laid and protected.