Turtles - Excerpt

Turtles Turtles Turtles

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

I don’t know how it was that we got so lucky to be on Palmarito beach that night. To have miles of unspoilt sand stretched for as far as we could see, with only us, Alfonso, and 95 baby turtles occupying it.

Turtle Sanctuary Puerto Escondido

Alfonso raced against time, down to the beach to bury the current batch of eggs he received, and back up to his hut to ready the new babies for release. He had been working around the clock, he told us, to protect and nurture these tiny creatures relying solely on him. Given this high season of turtle reproduction, his work followed a hecktic cycle.

He carefully carried one black plastic bag and I the other, mine containing 125 eggs. We stepped slowly and precisely among the mounds of eggs already methodically buried. They were protected by small plastic enclosures, and then a mosquito net, and then again within a large fenced area. These precious eggs have many predators – from bugs waiting to feast on them as they begin to break out of the shell, to dogs, birds, and humans wanting to dine on them. Batch by batch Alfonso buries them, monitors them, guards them, and counts down the 45 days until their arrival.

Turtle Eggs
Forty Five Days

Once they reach the surface, Alfonso gathers and harbours them in large plastic containers. They stretch their legs, clamber over one another, and await their colossal journey.

Ready To Be Released
Vale la Pena.

At a very precise moment, when the sun is setting on the horizon, they will make their run.

The Mad Dash
Made it to the Water

I don’t know how it was that we got so lucky to be the only ones there to help release them, to introduce them to their new Pacific home.

This experience was of the unforgettable kind. To witness their miraculous run straight for the pounding waves that I was myself quite afraid of. This natural impulse to dash and be enveloped by the giant ocean which offers dismal odds of survival is nothing short of remarkable. And requires an instinct unlike anything I could ever expect of myself.

(One of the turtles I could identify with, as he/she immediately started running the other way. With a little straightening and gentle encouragement, the waterline was eventually found.)

Nadar, tortuguitas. Swim, little turtles.https://www.youtube.com/embed/KJI67b5-w9Q

If you are having problems viewing this video, click thru to see baby turtles running to the sea.

how to do it

There are many hotels and resorts in Puerto Escondido who each have their own little hatcheries such that their guests can get this experience. Ours was incredibly intimate and we felt very privileged to be a part of it.

Gina, Puerto Escondido’s tourist information goddess, can be found in her booth on the Adoquin. We happened to stop by there, ask a question about the turtles, and she sent us on this amazing journey. Consult Gina for all attractions in Puerto Escondido!

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  1. “I don’t know how we got so lucky . . . ”

    I have a good guess. If you travel to a thousand different places, sometimes you see and experience amazing things. It’s not really so much luck as perseverance and the law of large numbers. If you spend every day out in the world looking for great things, they have a strange way of finding you. It’s why we go.

    Congratulations on this once-in-a-lifetime experiences. And here’s to many more.

  2. Tortuguitas! Turtles are such amazing creatures, such a difficult life, so much adversity. We’re hoping to catch an arribada sometime when we’re in Costa Rica. Seems like every time we move somewhere we just missed it. Glad you were able to catch this hatch. What a wonderful experience!

  3. What an incredible experience this must have been! I’d love to have the chance to witness or participate in this one day—the itty bitty turtles are so cute!

    What time of day did you guys release the turtles? I was under the impression that this generally takes place at night (perhaps to improve their chances of survival? But also maybe because the moon helps them mark the place where they hatched so that they can one day return to lay their own eggs?), but that doesn’t look to be the case here.

    1. It was just as the sun was going down. I think the egg-laying typically happens at night, maybe that is what you are thinking of? What I read is that turtles run towards the brightest horizon (not to the ocean necessarily) so it makes sense to do it there right at dusk. Perhaps then it is different in different places, depending on light sources.

  4. What an amazing experience for you! I have tears in my eyes right now just watching those precious little babies flit across the sand. Just wonderful!

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