The Sea Turtles of Playa Corozalito
When our buddies next door at our duplex in Samara came knocking on our door to tell us about the tour they’d done to a sea turtle nesting beach, we were intrigued. They’d gone north to the reserve at Playa Ostional, which is about an hour north of Samara.
Olive Ridley sea turtles have nine nesting beaches along the Pacific Coast (Acapulco being one of them) and during the wet season they come ashore in mass emergences, called arribadas, which are timed to a lunar schedule. For a sea turtle, coming ashore with a (dark) new moon is best, and it’s thought they come in groups in the hopes that their predators won’t be able to consume all the eggs. It was a strategy that probably worked fairly well until humans arrived.
Ostional has worked out a system to provide for both turtles and humans: eggs that are laid within the first three days of the week-long arribada are collected by local populations for consumption, the theory being that those eggs would be destroyed anyway by later turtle mums digging up (and disrupting) the existing nests as they work to create their own holes.
And that’s true, to some extent. The turtles excavating holes at the beach we visited were digging up previously laid eggs and throwing them on the sand. BUT, we’d also heard reports that most of the eggs are laid in the first three days anyway, so that the subsequent turtles in no way endanger the vast majority of the previously laid eggs. Regardless, we never visited Ostional, so I have no on-the-ground experience.
Torrential rains made the river on the way to Ostional too high for fording, so our host recommended that we head south to a tiny beach called Playa Corozalito, near the town of Punta Islita. It doesn’t get the numbers of turtles that call Ostional home, but there are fewer humans. It’s also under the oversight of a local non-profit that employs locals to monitor the nests and keep humans away. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information on their policy of letting people dig up the eggs for consumption.
We elected to go around dusk, not the ideal time for turtle nest sightings (midnight is the very best), but the roads were in rough shape and we wanted daylight for at least part of the trip. We arrived just before sunset.
We promptly saw this mum furiously digging.
You’ll notice that unfortunately she picked a site that was already the location of a nest. The ground around her was littered with both intact and broken eggs that she’d excavated with her flippers. There were likely few originals left by the time she was finished.
Plenty of predators, like this black vulture, lay in wait for both eggs and hatchlings.
At last, we have eggs! It was a bit like I’d imagine attending a birth would be like; everyone stands around waiting and then cheers when something (or someone) finally arrives. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never been at a birth that didn’t directly involve me, and I wasn’t playing close attention to the actions of the attendees. 🙂
The kids were fascinated.
Here is another turtle mom making her torturous way up the beach. It becomes immediately clear that sea turtles are not cut out for land. Watching them struggle to inch forward is painful. It’s also like watching paint dry.
Another thought: each turtle lays between 80 to 120 ping-pong ball-sized eggs. Where, exactly, is she keeping them all? There is only so much room under that shell!! My ovaries were hurting in solidarity. 🙂
All in all, it was a fun experience. There were a couple events that made it less so, like the guys that decided to touch the turtle while she was laying eggs (the zookeeper in me can’t help but protest when people misbehave) and the bumpy road at night was tricky. But those instances aside, it was a pretty darn cool experience.
Plus we spotted a dead armadillo, which Ben found to be almost as fascinating as the turtles.
It prompted a huge debate: do dead critters get to be added to our official species checklist for this trip? We eventually decided that was permissible, provided we noted that they were no longer actively walking, creeping, slithering, or swimming (ie dead).