Brave Beginnings- The Giant Sea Turtle

After a few hours of settling into the joy of a flat seaward horizon view and the luxury of a cooling on-shore wind after so long in the midst of a hot and steamy interior forest, Sjif, an enthusiastic young turtle researcher led us on to the long sandy beaches of Babun Santi, to find the famous Leatherback Sea Turtles that nest here. With the soft glow of a clear moonlit night to guide us last night it took just minutes before we were standing awe-struck in front of one of these immense creatures.

Like the endangered Pandas that have become a symbol of conservation on land, the sensitive Sea Turtle are a perfect representative of the frail balance of life in the world's seas. They have populated our oceans for over 150 million years and their decreasing numbers in recent decades have instigated the drives of a number of organisations to protect and understand them, with the wider intention of establishing and countering the damaging causes that effect them... and us all. Sjif works for Biotopic (under the local umbrella of STINASU) a Dutch NGO established in 1996 to spread awareness and offer professional assistance to counterpart conservation organisations world-wide. Working closely with local communities, their projects are based on the four main pillars of the conservation of bio-diversity, participation, awareness building and research.

After overcoming the initial spell-binding first encounter we watched as Sjif, and his helpers drafted in from the American Peace Corps, set about their nightly routine of locating, measuring, electronically tagging and recording the arrival of the turtles. Trying to ignore the invasive feeling we had we peered into the deep nesting pits they had dug to lay their eggs, and seeing them dextrously working their huge flippers, we found it incredible that they could move at all on land. An adult can weigh up to 600 kilos and grow to a length of two and a half metres! Once the eggs have been laid the turtles close the nest-pit and throw sand around the area to make it more difficult for predators to find the exact sight. Then sighing under the strain they drag themselves back to the open waters and disappear into the night.

It’s at this stage that you realise the incredible odds stacked against the survival of the hundred or so eggs lying deep in the sand. If they hatch at all there are ghost crabs and vultures waiting to pick them off, and if they pass the gauntlet of land-threats there are predatory fish waiting to pick them off. One in a hundred survives. Meanwhile their full-grown parents have to dodge the deadly shrimp-nets trawling offshore - arguably the most serious threat to the species. One of the older threats that has almost completely abated was the collecting of eggs by the local Carib community. Although thy still retain the right to collect a limited number of eggs from this endangered species they have for along time established the need for protecting all the assets of their surrounding environment.

This morning we had the pleasure of seeing tiny hatchlings making a break for the sea. The palm-sized rarer baby Olive Ridley turtles seemed ridiculously unsuited to the long battle of survival ahead. Sjif spotted one in trouble and gently cradling it in his hands tenderly inspected a lazy flipper. After a few reviving minutes in a small bucket of water he took it straight to the water where we all hopefully watched it swim off into the distance..... Amazingly the females will stay at sea for up to twenty years before miraculously returning to the same beaches, somewhat bigger (an incredible 20.000 times!), when the next generation will begin their gamble of life.

Returning to Galibi we introduced ourselves to one of the Captains in the now familiar Runningman style of offering a platform, but unlike nearly all of the remote communities we have visited to date, the Carib peoples here, it seems, will not be making any desperate pleas for help. They live in a well organised, well informed village that still retains strong links with their rich cultural heritage yet is embracing progress in an admirably self determined way......we look forward to an early start to another day of discovery................


Measuring Up

The Next Generation

Making a Break For It

Biotopic:Helping Hands

Hitting Open Water: An Olive Ridley

LINKS - Biotopic: Conservation, Participation & Awareness
LINKS - Oceanic Society
LINKS - Olive Ridley - Census
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