Friday, July 31, 2015

Landscaping by turtles

Perfect turtle egg-laying weather
Yep, that’s what the title says: landscaping by turtles. 
I know, I know this is the second article in two months about turtles but this is turtle season folks!  
We are in the middle of the nesting season with possibly the largest number of returning turtles since the turtle farm came into existence about twenty years ago. 

Dozens of nesting holes
Hundreds and hundreds of the ladies are nightly digging up the beaches, creating four-foot deep holes on any small piece of sand on the eastern side of Isla Mujeres. The beaches look like a Bobcat earth mover has been at work, operated by someone like me, someone with a very short attention span.  “I’m bored with this hole, I think I’ll make another one over there, oh wait, that’s a better spot.”  And on, and on, into the night.

Sparky checking out the mess left by the mama turtle
A few weeks ago, around mid-night, Sparky our little four-legged alarm system woke us with a woof.  Lawrie and I popped out of bed to investigate the strange noise coming from our ocean-side yard.  It sounded as if someone was shoveling sand, preparing to bury a body.  (You can tell, we read a lot of murder mysteries and thrillers.)  
A quick flick of the flashlight and we spotted a large sea turtle deep in the bushes on the south side of the house, violently flipping rocks and sand.  We wanted to help her find a better spot, but decided that she had to make her own decisions about the suitability of the location for her nest.  In the end she abandoned the attempt and moved on to another place. 
More eggs dug up by another mama turtle
The downside of so much nesting activity is that many of the eggs are not being collected by the turtle farm for hatching in their predator-free environment.  I have recently seen at least six large nests that have been re-dug the following night by another mama turtle, scattering eggs across the beach, crushing the fragile spheres with her large body.  It’s unfortunate.  Presumably the turtle farm hatchery is filled to capacity.  The upside of the extra eggs is the crabs and birds are happily feasting on the embryos, increasing their chances of producing more baby crabs or baby birds.
Mayan Riviera - Sargassum seaweed (Daily Mail photo)
Beside the challenge of finding a suitable place to nest the mama turtles are facing another weird environment phenomenon this year – Sargassum seaweed.  Literally tons of seaweed have been drifting in mats of vegetation and washing up on beaches throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.  It is an unsightly mess causing problems in resort areas, especially the Mayan Riviera and Cancun.  The Sargassum seaweed is an algae that originates mid-Atlantic in the warm-bodied Sargasso Sea.  The reason for the problem is perplexing scientists and environmentalists everywhere.  The female sea turtles – in their strange turtle-logic - are typically reluctant to cross the piles of seaweed.  It’s probably an old-turtle-tale handed down from generation to generation by the older turtles to the younger turtles.  “Don’t cross the seaweed or you will die.”  This year the turtles seem to be getting over their fear and clambering over the accumulation of seaweed in their search for a nesting spot.
Tracks from the ocean through neighbours' yard into ours.
We have often wondered why the mama turtles seem to congregate on the eastern side of the island, instead of using the longer, flatter, and much softer beaches on the western side, the side facing Cancun.  
Is it because our beaches are more visible as the ladies arrive back at their home base?  Or is it just more expedient after mating to hit the first available beach, and off-load all those pesky eggs?  
The ladies expend so much effort digging in the rocky sand on the eastern side, I would think a few extra minutes spent scouting out a better location would be worth the time – wouldn’t it?  
As you can probably guess, we really enjoy watching the show in turtle season.  They are pretty darn amazing creatures. 
We wish you a long and peaceful life my friends.
Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

1 comment:

Life's a Beach! said...

Great post! Can't believe the number of nests this year!