Friday, June 30, 2017

An early morning chat with a mama sea turtle

Turtles mating in front of our casa
“Are you awake?” Sparky asks jumping on the bed and jamming his wet nose into my face. My eyes pop open. It’s early, not yet sunrise. 

The sky is still a dark grey, slowly lightening to a paler hue as the sun creeps closer to the edge of our world.

Max our newest rescue pooch can’t yet jump up on to our bed, so he settles for putting his front paws on the edge of the mattress. Max has a bit of weakness in his hind end from an encounter with a vehicle. 

Rescue pooches - Sparky and Max on beach near our casa
In a previous life he slept in the street and this last January was accidentally run over. He was patched up by the great folks at Clinica Veterinaria de Isla Mujeres, and fostered by fellow Canadian Sylvie Staines for a few months while he recovered, then we agreed to adopt him. He is gaining strength daily but he is still uncoordinated and frequently stumbles, landing on his face in a tangled heap of legs and feet.

“Can we go out, please? Pleeeaaase?” I can hear toe nails clicking on the tile floor as Sparky jumps off the bed, and both dogs commence the pee-pee dance in our dark bedroom.
Another mama turtle heading back to the ocean near our casa

“Okay, okay, just give me a minute.” I say as I blunder around in the gloom looking for clothes, house keys, and my wrist watch. I think about taking my pocket-sized camera but change my mind. What are the odds of seeing a turtle this morning? I think, a big yawn stretching my face.

The dogs and I parade downstairs, leaving Lawrie to slumber in air-conditioned comfort. I switch on the coffeemaker as I pass by, and open the door for Sparky and Max. The boys scoot outside and quickly discover the fresh turtle tracks in our neighbours’ yard, at Ronda and Bruce Roberts casa.
Sparky and Max investigating turtle nests

Noses to the ground they follow the scent from the yard to the ocean and back, searching. A mix of terrier and several other breeds Sparky normally has an amazingly accurate sense of smell, but this morning his is off the mark. 

I looked a little to the south of where the boys are sniffing and there she is, the mama sea turtle, about to tip over the edge of a three-foot drop onto the beach. I quickly stand in front of the turtle preventing her from using that route. 

2015 -  the turtle that Amy and I turned right-way up
Two years ago another neighbour, Amy, and I had to right an upside down tortuga who had flipped off of a four-foot drop. 

It’s a two-person job to get them turned right-way up again, and at this time of the morning there is only me in my caffeine-deprived zombie state.

“Okay, mama, how about you pick a different route.” I say to her, wondering if I have seen this particular turtle before, wishing that I had put my camera in my pocket.  She’s a beauty, long and wide, and healthy looking. Perhaps a Kemp’s Ridley, or a Loggerhead, I’m just not sure.
Turtle eggs dug up by another nesting turtle

The females, and only the females, do return to the same beaches year after year digging deep holes and laying up to one hundred and twenty golf-ball-shaped eggs. 

But in all honesty, unless you really study the markings and scars of an individual I think one magnificent mama turtle looks like another magnificent mama turtle, especially in the half-light of 5:45 in the morning.

Different night, similar turtle heading back to sea

I could have imagined it, but I thought I heard her hiss at me, for getting in her way. 

Keeping my fingers well away from her strong jaws I briefly stroked her smooth carapace, then she decided to move away from this strange creature. 

Turtling, or the hunting of turtles, was banned in Mexico and the USA in 1990 just twenty-seven years ago. 
This mama turtle could be old enough to remember the times when it was legal to hunt her species for meat, oil, shells or anything useable. She probably doesn’t have a great affection for humans.
Hatchlings in front of our casa in 2015

She slowly turned and found a slightly less hazardous route to the beach, while I trailed along beside her, making sure that if the dogs did notice they wouldn’t harass her. 

It is fascinating to watch the cumbersome progress of a full-grown turtle flippering her way across the sand to get back to the ocean, and once she hits the water she is as graceful as a ballerina.

When she was safely out to sea the two pooches and I turned back to the house.  Organizing two big cups of coffee with a drizzle of caramel on top, I woke up Lawrie and related my morning encounter with the tortuga.

Photo - Isla Mujeres al Dia Facebook page
During mating and nesting season, May to October, there is a good chance of seeing a turtle on the beach. 

I just have to get back in the habit of taking my camera with me when Sparky and Max need their morning pee walk. 

If you have the chance to watch a wild turtle please do it quietly, and don’t shine flashlights or cellphones on her. When taking photos don’t use a flash. She might abandon her efforts and off-load her eggs in the ocean; a bonus for the fish but a loss for the turtle conservation efforts.

Hasta Luego 

Lynda & Lawrie



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Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt.

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