|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................
The Next Generation
Making a Break For It
Hitting Open Water: An