Friday, October 7, 2011

Launching of the Turtles

Some of the local kids who came to release turtles
Mayhem - is the word that comes to mind while watching a hundred or more little kids rushing to release over 6000 baby Green Turtles into the surf.  Wednesday evening was the last scheduled release of the day-old hatchlings, this one held at the beach across from the Guadalupana neighbourhood.  It was a very sociable event with a number of our local and gringo friends participating.

Arrival of baby turtles at release area

About a quarter past six in the evening, the baby turtles arrived from the Tortugranja (turtle farm) via large plastic tubs transported on the back of a flatbed truck.  The heavy tubs were then carried to the beach and lined up along the sand just out of the covetous reach of the little kids, and bigger kids like me.  In an attempt to minimize the number of predators prowling for a feast of turtle sushi we had to wait until sundown before the turtles were distributed for release.

Hard to see in the semi-dark!
And then it happened.  The official in charge deemed it time to start the release.  Every kid with a bucket was given a double handful of squirming baby turtles to release onto the sand, hopefully pointed in the right direction - towards the water.  They are so very small, and about the colour of dried seaweed.  It was extremely difficult in the deepening twilight not to step on the tiny shapes racing across the sand to the ocean.  Once they reached the ocean, two-foot waves tossed a number of them unceremoniously back on the sand. 

I can't imagine how terrifying this whole procedure must be for a baby turtle.
Big wet kid, releasing turtles
The thought keep flickering through my brain while we watched the mayhem – at this point in their lives these turtles are about one inch tall, and the waves are about twelve inches high. Isn’t that equivalent to a human swimming in twelve-foot waves?  The Frigate birds, gulls, and other predator birds will feast on them come daylight.  Others will be gulped down by underwater predators - like fish food sprinkled on the surface of an aquarium.  No wonder the survival rate for turtles is approximately 1 in 1000. 

After about fifteen years have passed, those that do survive will return to this area to mate in the waters off the south end of Isla Mujeres.  The females will return to the beaches where they started their journey and lay a hundred or more eggs in deep sand, before heading back to sea.  The males will never return to land.  They are a fascinating species.

Lots of interested folks watching the event

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