Day 6: Baby Turtle Hatchlings at Camaronal
Yesterday, a local surfer had told me that he and his buddies spotted baby sea turtles waddling into the surf at Playa Camaronal around 7:30 a.m. Supposedly when one batch of hatchlings is born, others follow suit for the next seven days at about the same time of day. Vincent and I wanted to see this miracle happen in front of our own eyes, and were determined to spend the morning hunting baby sea turtles -- for photographic purposes only, of course.
Playa Camaronal is a part of the Camaronal National Wildlife Refuge, just three miles south of Carrillo and seven and a half miles from Playa Samara. We arrived at the beach at about 7:15 a.m. Cell phone reception was wonderful, so we decided to divide and conquer, splitting up in order to cover more ground. I walked to the right and he to the left; if one of us spotted a newborn we would call the other on the telephone. Scouring the ground, I scrutinized every section of sand in the hopes of stumbling across a nest.
Unfortunately, I saw nothing but seeds and sea brush on land, and fishermen and surfers in the ocean. A large black mass in the water kept changing shape; it looked like a monster trawling the ocean floor, but turned out to be an enormously dark school of fish. Anglers waited patiently for delicacies such as snapper, sea bass, and yellow tail. Meanwhile, only the most adept surfers enjoyed Camaronal's exceptionally intimidating waves, which are known to reach up to 20 feet. I tried not to let their hypnotizing tricks distract me from my original purpose: finding baby sea turtles.
Since these young reptiles are a vulture's favorite snack, I followed these birds hoping they would lead me to the jackpot. They instead led me to a dead manta ray's carcass and some felled logs.
After about an hour, I noticed a park ranger cleaning up a section of the beach. He explained that the area, declared protected in 1994, is vital to the preservation of the great sea turtle. Of the seven species of marine turtles that exist in the world, four of them frequent Carmaronal's shores: the Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), the Atlantic leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), and the black (Chelonia midas agassizii) turtles. In Spanish, they are known as the lora, baula, carey, and negra -- and all are in danger of extinction.
Encompassing an enormous amount of space (39,537 marine acres and 600 land acres), Camaronal provides a vast breeding ground for these creatures. Between December and May, an average of five expectant mothers come to shore each night to drop roughly 105 eggs resembling slimy ping-pong balls. This is nothing in comparison to the high season, when that number spikes to an average of 30 females per night. It is not uncommon for researchers to document as many as 120 new nests in a single evening during the months of June to November.
Scientists transfer many of these burrows to their fenced-in hatchery, where the embryos can develop undisturbed and under study. Here Vincent and I stared at the nests, willing them with our minds to begin shaking with life -- but none of them stirred. By this point the weather was becoming unbearably hot. The ranger told me that if the eggs were to hatch at this hour they would basically fry sunny side up. We returned to the car, cursing our bad luck.
Back at El Sueno Tropical hotel, we took advantage of their wireless Internet to check our email. After an evening dip in the pools, their restaurant again did not disappoint. We feasted on pizza, pasta, and a phenomenal side of salted vegetables.