Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sea turtle life cycle on display at Playa la Flor, Nicaragua

It's no secret, for our blog regulars, that my family and I wanted to see an arribada of turtles, on a sandy beach, somewhere in the world. Well, that moment, finally, and unexpectedly, arrived last weekend when one of my friends updated her FaceBook account showing that an arribada occurred the night before near our favorite beach. The only thing that wasn't well-timed, was that our oldest daughter was at her friend's house, for a birthday sleepover, and missed the spectacle. We will definitely try to make it out there again in the months ahead so she can witness mother nature's beauty in real time and up close. During the peak of the arribada (which occurred hours before our arrival) many hundreds if not thousands of olive ridley sea turtles came ashore. While we were there, we saw roughly 70 adult sea turtles in various stages of egg laying process. We saw many baby turtles as well and will get into that a little later. Something that was unexpected was the smell of the ocean on the beach. The sand smelled like a pier or a fish cleaning station. The heavy aroma, most likely, a combination of the turtles dragging and exfoliating their bellies along the sand and the many exposed turtle eggs was intense.    
   Worldwide, there aren't that many beaches that experience arribadas, or large turtle arrivals, anymore. This rarity is why Playa la Flor was designated a nature preserve by the Nicaraguan government. Though the park has staff and is guarded by soldiers during the egg laying season, a combination of dogs, vultures and poachers still wreak havoc on the nests. We have heard estimates that 50,000 plus adult females come ashore, on Playa la Flor each year, to lay their precious cargo. It would not be unheard of if more than 5,000,000 eggs are laid on this beach during each season. Additionally, the park staff does collect eggs to hatch and then release the baby turtles directly into the water. Still, it is hard to see the endless amounts of egg shells strewn along the beach and the hundreds of holes dug by dogs and surrounded by vultures. I just have to believe nature produces enough abundance to accommodate for such loss. Along Nicaragua's Pacific coast, it is estimated that nearly 100,000,000 sea turtle eggs are laid each year.
    Seeing a sight that has been around since the time of the dinosaurs is pretty amazing. Turtles, for all their clumsiness, seem to be tenacious survivors and hopefully will continue to spread their quirky charm for many others to admire, for years to come.      

A couple females returning to the ocean after their tiring ordeal.

Digging the nests is done exclusively with their back flippers.

We arrived at 5 in the morning at the tail end of the arribada.

The many turtle tracks show how many mothers came ashore.
Zoe just loved the nature of it all.

A life long dream to see this.
We were on the beach with 6 other tourists and 4 soldiers. It felt as if we were alone. 

Hearing the ocean and nothing else is breathtaking.

Sometimes females jettison their eggs if they get scared or too tired for the beaching.

Though slow moving on land, these gals swim fast once they get back in the water.

More turtles than people.

Timeless reflections. 

The moms get exhausted digging their holes.

Predatory birds searching for baby turtles to swoop down on.

There are so many eggs on the beach that Zoe accidentally stepped on one and she cried so much.

We held baby turtles that were collected by a park employee.

Mother turtles laying eggs accidentally unearth eggs from earlier nests.
One of the many dog holes with vulture footprints around a former nest.

These babies are said to have a 1 in a thousand chance of surviving to adulthood.

Turtle tracks span as far as the beach is long.

These 7 babies are running as fast as they can to the water. 

Locals who were poaching eggs and raiding nests as soon as the military walked away.

Hunger knows no bounds, even with endangered animals. 

Poachers use the sticks as probes to find soft spots to dig up eggs.

These people frantically searched for eggs between guard patrols. The spotter using a radio was able to provide cover for the poachers. Though this was sad to see, it is also reality.

A park employee collecting babies, but I wasn't sure about this, as he acted as a spotter with his radio to allow the poachers to dig eggs. 

Sadly, we are not sure what happened to these little guys.
Victim to dogs, birds, etc.

This poor mother died trying to give life to others. Her journey, her exhaustion, was too much.

The vultures and their season of plenty 

Elise noticed something strange about this turtle and investigated. Sure enough the mother turtle was stuck in the sand and sinking. Elise held her head above the water so she could breathe. I went over and lifted the turtle out, which was firmly stuck in the sand, so she could fight another day. 

The turtle was so tired after we rescued her that she needed a rest before going back into the ocean.

After the turtle adventure we went to San Juan del Sur for breakfast.