leatherback turtle on the beach
(digging a deep hole in which her eggs will be laid)
How fortunate for us to be here in Grenada during the Leatherback turtles’ nesting season, which runs from the beginning of April to the end of June. These are the world’s largest turtles, and can grow to 9’ and 2,000 lb., and reach 80 – 100 yr in age. They have been around since the time of dinosaurs! We booked a turtle watching tour with Jorge & Kim; and as it happened, Tony & Anne & their visiting guests (from Pavo Real) were also on the same tour. These eco-tours help to support the turtle conservation efforts, and are guided by the marine biologists who conduct the research.
Levera Beach, the nesting site, was a 1 1/2+ hr drive on Grenada’s narrow winding roads through their rugged interior. An adventure in itself, particularly because they drive on the left hand side of the road; and our minivan had seating for 15, but there were 17 of us packed in! (Note to self – booking a tour with Cuddy does not ensure a seat in his van).
It was an awesome experience. Soon after our arrival on the beach, we witnessed the release of hatchlings. They had come to the surface earlier in the day, and the researchers had collected them, for release at night when there are fewer predators and a better chance at survival. The hatchlings are adorable – so small (2”-3”) – and it was quite a sight to see them all try to ‘swim’ up and down the contours of the beach towards the ocean. Tough slug, but necessary for imprinting. Apparently, these hatchlings will return to this same beach to nest when they reach maturity in 15-20 years. Amazing.
turtle hatchlings finding their way to the sea
About an hour later, the researchers had found a leatherback which had come up on the beach and started the nesting process. Once committed to the process, they go into a trance, and it’s possible to observe them. Our group was guided to her site, and we watched for almost 2 hours as she dug a deep hole with her back flippers; laid her eggs (a mix of both yolk and yolkless eggs – the smaller ping pong ball sized yolkless eggs, create space between the larger tennis ball sized ‘real’ eggs); covered the eggs back up and packed the sand down over them; ‘camoflauged’ the nesting site; and finally returned to the sea. It was a truly unique experience to watch the whole process.
While watching this ‘big momma,’ we witnessed yet more hatchlings come to the surface. At one point, I noticed one just inches from my feet. The researchers, not wanting any harm to come to any of the hatchlings, had us clear the area where they were surfacing L. I know it was the responsible thing to do, but I so wanted to stay!
On the return walk to the minivan, we passed by 3 more nesting turtles. It was great to have been “in the right place at the right time” and have had the opportunity to observe these leatherback turtles.