Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Isla de Cañas - turtles

This story takes place on our last night in Panama before we sailed to Ecuador

Kamaya skimmed across the long island known as Isla de Cañas, Panama. It is a long island which, at first sight, may look like part of the mainland and it's known for its turtles, who come through the gigantic surf to lay eggs. The species of turtles most commonly found here are the Olive Ridleys.

As I stared at the surf from the dinghy, I wondered how the Olive Ridleys managed to do this three times a month during the nesting season. Once the wheels were down on our dinghy, the dinghy lurched forward and went to depth enough to stand. Everyone got out, a few seconds later a big wave came and nearly flipped the dinghy over! At least, it got a few gallons of water inside. We bailed out the water and then changed into dry clothes. I wondered if we'd see any turtles.

We walked along the beach for at least a mile. There was nothing, no sign of turtles. Maybe tonight wasn't a good night, what if we wouldn't see anything?
Finally we saw a land mark signifying the beginning or the end of the reserve. there was someone sitting at the landmark. But we hadn't noticed that yet, for we heard the sound of churning sand! A turtle! Just then the high pitched whine of my brother Kai broke the tranquility and beauty of the turtle scene. He kept screaming, "Let's go back now." We hissed back to him to stop yelling and that there was a turtle coming up to nest. It took a little time to get the message across about the turtle, but finally he quieted down.

What he saw was amazing. Her larger front fins were shoveling and propelling her body across the sand, when I looked back, the tracks of the sea dweller went back a long way, she had come far from the sea.

By now she had made it parallel to the post, which we had just noticed and we went over to see what was there. This proved to be good, for there was a person leaning against it. She told us that this post marked the line to the reserves and we had been walking in the "non reserves" where the turtles are not protected from poachers. We also learned that she worked with the biologists here, but was not one herself. The Kamaya crew had met some other people who worked like her.

After reporting this new information to everyone else, we noticed the turtle had made some digging progress, she had a half foot and was shoveling out sand with her powerful front flippers. She splattered sand everywhere. The nest was complete! Now she began laying eggs, one by one. There were some more people looking at her, you could see the tears in her eyes. It reminded me how much alike turtles and humans are, yet she was prehistoric. A marvel of evolution.

The woman at the pole walked over and dug out the sand layer, in which covered the secret pouch where she was laying. She wanted to show us the eggs which were the size of ping pong balls, coming out one at a time. Making an unheard yet loud noise as they fell into the pouch where the fellow eggs lay. With each egg, the turtles' body heaved with the effort. She layed about thirty eggs, and then turned back to the sea. During the nesting season, she would lay about a hundred eggs total! But that's nothing in comparison to the Leatherback turtle, which can do 450 to 600 eggs total!

Meanwhile the Olive Ridley had stopped laying eggs and was covering her nest with sand. She walked all the way around the nest, spraying sand everywhere to cover up the eggs. It looked pretty camouflaged. Satisfied, she dragged herself back towards the ocean. About midway there she staggered towards the light of the nearby town, confused. Turtles often mistake city lights for the moon, and travel towards it. We aimed her in the right direction by blocking out the false light with our bodies. She understood and clambered towards the sea on her flippers, plunging into the surf. As she went in, out came another turtle, about to make the same journey as she had, the journey she was born to perform, one after the other.


Ramona said...

HI Maya,
That's the best description of a turtle making a nest and laying her eggs that I've ever read. How long will the eggs stay in the sand before they hatch? I didn't know that the eggs were as big as pingpong balls. I suppose the Galapagos tortoises lay eggs as big as softballs. MMM

Anonymous said...

Hi memaw,
thanks for commenting, I hate it when people assume that I don't like it when they comment and that it takes too much blog space.
after the mother lays the eggs it will take eighty days for the eggs to hatch and make their journey.
You don't think it's too much description?
The leatherback eggs are as big as billiard balls! the leatherback eggs also have no yolk, unlike the olive ridley (the subject of in the story)who do have yolks, as well as all the other turtles, sharing the qualities of the olive ridley. No idea about the Galapagos turtle. Guess we'll have to look that up.


Myra said...

Maya, you took us with you on your turtle journey and leading your reader (me) wondering if all would be okay - I'm glad your tale has a fulfilling ending and you are becoming a turtle expert. It would be wonderful to be back when the eggs hatch.

Myra said...

On PBS today the feature story was that the Mexican Navy was protecting the Olive Ridleys laying their eggs on the Mexican beach - and...if the sand is exactly 30 degrees, half will be male and half female - but if it is 2 degrees higher, then all will be female and 2 degrees lower, all will be male - Your story must have an influence on the Mexicans as well.

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