On the evening of July 29, 2015 a group of us drove for an hour with the husband of our Spanish school’s director to La Flor Wildlife Refuge—the area where the turtles return every year to lay their eggs. Before heading down to the beach, we were shown a baby turtle in a sack of sand, and there were many more sacks surrounding it: these eggs/hatchlings were being protected from poachers and would be returned to the beach at the appropriate time to head for the ocean.
The little guy fit neatly into the palm of a hand, though I worried that too much handling might somehow alienate him from his fellows. Turtles aside, it was a beautiful night to be on the beach: the sand was cool and silky-soft, the waves crashed rhythmically on the shore, the almost-full moon played peek-a-boo with clouds, and occasionally a little warm rain fell—not even enough to require a rain jacket or umbrella, just a reminder that this is, after all, “green” or rainy season.
There was apparently also a little drama playing out on the beach while we watched for the arrival of turtles. We had been told to use red lights only on cameras or flashlights, since white lights disturb (or deter) turtles. However, there were two or three men walking different areas of the beach with very large, bright white flashlights. Our guide explained that a turtle egg poacher had been spotted and the gentlemen with the bright lights were officials attempting to catch the poacher.
After walking the beach, waiting and watching for about 90 minutes, a substantial-sized mama Olive Ridley turtle (Tortuga Paslama: Lepidochelys olivacea) emerged from the surf and slowly made her way up the beach. Eventually she found a suitable spot and began digging her nest, preparatory to laying eggs. Our guide described how, once the 50-70 eggs were laid, she would then put sand over them and tamp it down so they were safely buried.
Sadly, there were way too many people around her—too close to give a mother the privacy and quiet she needs to embark on the process of giving birth, and after some time of slow digging, she began to move again, closer to the trees. Since by this time it was pretty late and I was perhaps not the only one thinking of the need to get some sleep before starting a 4-hour Spanish lesson at 8:00 a.m., I was rather relieved when our guide/driver determined it was time to leave. We piled in to the truck and truck-bed and bumped and rattled slowly back along the unpaved road through thick, lush jungle—me with the thought of my bed looming large in my mind!
I was sad that we didn’t give mama turtle the privacy to lay her eggs in peace—there were two or three groups of people on the beach—and no rules are given about suitable distances from the turtles to afford them privacy. Nevertheless I have no regrets about going, experiencing the peace and beauty of the night on the unspoiled beach (a nature preserve area) and was in awe of the deliberateness and patience of that mama turtle to do what she needed to do to lay her eggs in safety.