It was my very first shift on the very first day at “La Tortuga Feliz”. It was dark and we guarded the eggs in the hatchery, checking and patrolling the area around it every half hour.
A more experienced volunteer showed me how to do it, before it was my first turn on my own. I didn’t expect much, I merely expected to find my way in the darkness and to safely arrive back in my seat. When I got to the nests, I saw a crab digging its hole very close to a nest. I unsuccessfully tried to hill it, but only managed to chase it away.
Then I walked on for a couple of meters, patrolling the beach close to the hatchery. There, all of a sudden, I was able to make out something that looked like a huge rock, lying 3 meters in front of me. I held my red light at it for a while (just to be sure), but it didn’t move. Suddenly, however, everything went really quickly. I heard a loud snort that didn’t come from the ocean. I cringed. There was another snort. I cringed again. Only then I also noticed the very dark track leading from the ocean to the “rock”. Then the “rock” started moving. The “rock” had in fact been an 1.5 meter Leatherback Turtle lying in front of me. Paralyzed, I was in total awe, watching this creature digging a hole with its back flippers, laying one egg after another, winding and snorting. After that it used one flipper to shovel the sand back into the hole and the other one to cover the nest, so the eggs wouldn’t get damaged. It’s truly spectacular to watch this process and this very big, powerful yet gentle and careful animal.
Before we watched the turtle crawling, winding itself back into the ocean, we measured it, cleaned it, analyzed its flippers, skin and carapace and tagged it.
All in all, I am still awestruck when I think about these unique and wonderful moments at La Tortuga Feliz, which I’ll never ever forget. However, there was one downside to my first turtle experience. What I haven’t mentioned earlier is that when I spotted the turtle, there was already someone there with it. Since it had been such a dark night, I couldn’t see him, but a poacher held his torch towards me to signal that he had been there first. The agreement is that whoever is there first, gets to keep the eggs. At least after a while (and after one of our locals had spoken to him) he let us come closer to watch the process. But still we could neither save or protect the eggs.
All in all, at this time of year there are a lot of poachers and only a few volunteers. If there were more, the chances of saving more eggs would rise and it might contribute to the stabilization of the overall turtle population on earth. Consequently, we need as many volunteers here as possible. Please come and help us save these wonderful creatures. Here you can combine doing something good, watching turtles (in awe), spending lot of time at the beach and meeting new people from all over the world. This is a real adventure you’ll never forget and you’ll carry it in your heart for the rest of your life.
Date: 7th April, 2014