May 23 is World Turtle Day, and I wanted to tell you a tale about baby turtles, and their quest for survival against incredible odds.
First thing, Is there anything cuter than a baby sea turtle? Actually, puppies kind of have the cuteness gig locked down, but sea turtles win in my book for cutest cold-blooded reptile. On our recent trip to Baja California Sur, Mexico, we had the good fortune to take part in a sea turtle hatchling release!
Before I start rambling on about how freakin’ cute the baby turtles were, I need to tell you something. It’s not easy being a baby sea turtle. Biologists estimate that only one in a thousand will make it to adulthood. Those are pretty rough odds and sadly, humans are a big part of the problem. Demand for turtle shells and meat, along with destruction of feeding and nesting habitats are driving sea turtles to extinction. But, there is good news! There are people out there trying to increase those odds. And we got to see these people in action and take part in the great work they do!
When we first booked our flight to Cabo, my primary goal was to drink margaritas for breakfast and maybe also lunch and dinner, weather permitting. Not a bad goal, this was a vacation after all. But after doing some research, I realized it was turtle nesting season and thought, what if we could see sea turtles by the seashore?
We reached out to Tortugueros Las Payitas, a conservation group focused on the protection and conservation of sea turtles. You can find them in Todos Santos and if you have the time, volunteer with them. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time in our short schedule for this, but we were fortunate enough to arrive for a hatchling release.
When a mama sea turtle comes back to the beach of her birth to nest, she can lay upwards of 100 eggs, and depending on the forces of nature, zero to all the eggs will hatch into adorable baby turtles about 40-70 days later. When we arrived, there were about 60-80 hatchlings ready to make the long trek to the ocean. Without aid, baby turtles rely on various environmental cues to know when to begin this amazing race to the water, such as waiting for the temperature of the sand to cool, which indicates it is nighttime, when they are less likely to be eaten by predators. Our hatchlings had a little help; the volunteers at Tortugueros las Payitas brought them down near the ocean at sunset, where they began their dangerous expedition, albeit at a slightly shorter distance than their unassisted brethren.
Once released onto the sand, the little ones frantically crawled towards the water’s edge, where wave after crashing wave would either carry them out to the ocean beyond, or push them back up to the beach, forcing them to begin again. Sadly, not all of them made it to the ocean. Some, after being pushed back so many times, grew too weak to continue. But for the ones that made it, another long journey began.
It was an incredibly moving event, to see these little guys push forward, relying on the instinctual cues passed down for generations to make their way to the ocean. It was sad too, knowing the odds were not in their favor, statistically speaking, most would not survive their first night in the ocean. But thanks to the great work of the volunteers and conservationists, they made it to the ocean, something that doesn’t happen for thousands of hatchlings. And that definitely up their odds. There are things you can do to help their odds once they make it to the ocean. Monitor your use of plastics and recycle – plastics that end up in the ocean can be confused for food, causing turtles (and other marine life) to choke and suffocate. If you SCUBA, pick up trash you find when diving and if you see a beautiful turtle gliding in the water, watch from a polite distance, you are a guest in their home, so don’t try to touch them like a you are some drunk, creepy uncle at the Christmas party.
With that, I wish you a Happy World Turtle Day!