Playa La Escobilla is located 20 minutes south of Puerto Escondido, this vast stretch of flat unspoilt beach is an important turtle conservation site, which is protected by the Mexican Navy during nesting periods.
A few weeks ago hundreds of female Olive Ridley sea turtles had surfed their way through the crashing waves and onto the soft sand to lay their eggs. We had unfortunately missed the ‘arribada’ the Spanish word meaning arrival that is used when more than 1000 turtles make the journey to the beach to nest. But we were able to take part in a turtle release on Playa Bacocho in Puerto which was just fabulous.
My track record in turtle release wasn’t good. On honeymoon in Sri Lanka, Mr E and I had romantically waved two tiny turtles on their way from the beach, but before I could call out ‘swim turtle swim’ mine was scooped up by a big angry bird before he even got past the shallow surf. The bird got his dinner and I genuinely had a little tear for that tiny turtle I had sent to his demise.
So after 18 years it was time to be absolved as a turtle killer and take part in a new release!
The organisers gave us some details about the turtles in Spanish so hopefully my translation facts and figures are correct.
The tiny tortugas had been in incubation for 45 days and were newly hatched that evening. We could see them in the big transportation bowl kicking their flippers eager to escape, their natural instincts telling them to get to the sea now!
We were given coconut shells to hold our hatchlings in so as not to transfer any hand oil, sun cream or bacteria onto the turtles, then we lined up along the beach and with uno, dos, tres we lay the turtles carefully onto the beach, cheering them on their journey to the sea.
The turtles are guided by the light reflecting off the ocean and have to make it down a shallow sand bank to the waves. They will have imprinted details of the beach where they were hatched and the short journey from sand to sea is vital for when they hopefully return to nest in the future.
Little Sue tortuga made a wrong turn to start with, but then shuttled down the beach catching up with little Sarah tortuga. Both our turtles made it past deathly ‘crab alley’. Turtle protector Keith, threw sand at the snappy crab so they would scurry back into their holes, no turtle dinner for them that night!
Once in the surf edge the tortugas battled through the foamy waves and were away, much to our relief and happiness!
These tiny tortugas will need to take a ride for safety on sea algae, which they will eat to become teenage turtles. Of all the turtles released that evening only 2% will survive to become fully grown adults, hopefully avoiding being eaten by sharks.
At about 15 years old the adult females return to lay their eggs on La Escobilla beach and the cycle of life will continue!
Mexican baby turtles look like tough little guys, so let’s hope Sarah and Sue tortugas get to swim for a long time.
Photo credit of Sarah & Sue – Keith Marsh