Rare Turtle Nesting and Hatchlings in Mahahual

Balamku Inn (Sept. 2014)

We were awakened by sounds of awe and surprise a few weeks ago when our helpers, Pablo and Joachim, discovered some weird marks on the sand coming from the beach. They ended in what seemed like a small excavation done by a six-year-old but, since this was early morning, we very much doubted the fact that a kid have done so much sand removal. We had never heard that this side of Costa Maya had any turtle arrivals, but there was no other logical explanation. We have never heard of odd sand drawings left by aliens either, so we concluded that it must have been a turtle, which is a big happening. So we sort of felt our way around to determine where the nest could be, and got busy setting a perimeter and protections so no one could disturb the little ones, as we knew that it would take about 60 days for them to see the light.

We must confess that during this time we had our doubts about the nest being empty, especially when we were visited a second time and were able to meet Mama turtle as she made her way up the beach. She started huffing and puffing as she tried to dig a hole furiously to lay her eggs. However the place that she chose was not the best as it was hard-packed sand and gravel; after what seemed like an eternity to us, she turned around and in a jiffy was gone into the blue without leaving any eggs.

Female turtles return to the very same beach where they were born to do their part. Mind you, it is 25 years before they do and they can lay up to three nests on their visit to the coast, each with between 80 to 120 eggs. They will dig 80 to 100 cm deep and cover the nest; they may dig a smaller one around to disguise the real one in order to prevent predators like birds, iguanas, dogs, and raccoons from getting to the little ones. Little do they know that it is men they should fear the most, as some brainless ones attribute aphrodisiac qualities to the eggs and are sought after by brain-impotent dinks. Anyway big efforts are made in Mexico to protect nests to ensure that some turtle species are taken from the endangered list, and it is a criminal offense to damage, trade or eat turtle eggs.

In the northern part of Quintana Roo there are camps devoted to the protection of all species of turtles. The biggest one is in Playa del Carmen where Alejandro Arenas, who is a biologist, helps people like us who are awed and mesmerized by these visits. He helped us identify our Mama as a green turtle and instructed us on how to take care of our precious nest, in which he truly was interested as there are not many visits in Mahahual.

We guarded and watched our nest like hawks. For the next weeks it became a piece of conversation with our guests, who took pictures and read all about turtles. We sent pictures to friends and acquaintances, and even got an email with a list of 100 names, one for each of the little ones, from guests who had visited from Guatemala with their kids and just couldn't wait for the little ones to hatch.

So, 45 days went by and we had marked a big red circle on the calendar that encompassed from the 54th day to the 62nd. We were more than ready for the big day but as usual it was not to be. Nature is anything but predictable and biology is not like math; being precise was not in the books. Furthermore, the last weeks we had suffered from extreme heat and the temperatures were quite high, thus accelerating the incubation of the little ones without us even being notified. We went around our business and received some German guests whom we housed in the palapa nearest to the nest and beach, thinking that the little ones would be born after they left. One evening they were returning from dinner when the woman starting yelling to T (Teresa, my wife) and moving her arms sideways. T was on our terrace and promptly looked at me, urging me to go see what was causing all this ruckus. Perhaps, she thought, a bat had gotten in their room, so she urged me to go get rid of flying mice so peace could be restored; off I went to comply with my orders.

The woman kept waving her arms and shouting excitedly in German, so only God would know what she was saying as she spoke rapidly. I get by in the Germanic lingo all right but not at that speed, so I hurried to their room only to be surprised by the movement on the ground. There are two steps to gain access to the palapa. At first I thought that lots of crabs were trying to climb and attack them but shining the light on the rapidly moving critters, I realized that they were none other than the little ones that were in force going towards the light. You see when they hatch, they are born with what is known as positive  phototropism, which means they are attracted to light. Sometimes eggs hatch just as the sun is setting, so the little ones run towards the light on the horizon and/or on the sea surface and thus get to the sea. We had planned to keep that side of Balamku in the dark after the German couple left so the little ones could run into the sea, but they had other plans.

We all started to collect and place them in a tub that we had for the occasion and, after three hours, we were pretty sure we had them all. We looked for them, we did, all over the place and left no stone unturned. Alejandro had told us to place them on humid sand and to cover them, so they would sleep and be ready for their great adventure the following day; that is precisely what was done. Mind you, we couldn't sleep thinking about them, their awaiting journey, the fact that they will be at sea for the rest of their lives, and that it will take 25 years for  some of them to return, Nature has a way of mesmerizing us and surrounding us with beauty and magical moments. Involved in this we shut our eyes, eagerly awaiting the next sunset to wish them goodbye.

Next morning pictures were sent with countless emails and some invitations to our Dutch neighbors and kids to help us set the little ones free. They slept all day and not a peep came out of their quarters. But as the sun was setting, in unison they started to move, amazing us once more how at one moment they were like in a hibernation state and the next they were squirming and moving as if telling us they were ready.

And ready we were too. We had made a corridor 10 feet from the water and T and Albert were knee-deep with long sticks to guide the ones that couldn't find their way. The rest of us started to set them on the sand. Now once you set them, they shouldn't be touched again and only led to the water with sticks so as not to imprint them with human touch. We all made sure there were no birds, big crabs or other predators on their way, and off they went so fast, so direct, and so eager. As soon as they reached the water, they became small torpedoes that went into the blue at incredible speed and, just like that, what we had been waiting for weeks happened in two minutes at most. We were elated and happy at having been able to participate in such an incredible and magical happening. We bid them farewell as we may see them in 25 years and, just as the sun left, they were gone!!

Next morning another unusual thing took place. Dolphins swimming this side of the reef barrier is something that does not happen often. T was immediately concerned for the little ones, but here is the thing: those little ones were probably past Chinchorro by then, and that is over 45 kilometers from here. They can swim without stopping for hours plus they are born with beacons that guide them to take advantage of sea currents that we do not see. They are home where they belong and we can be proud of having contributed to their being there, because the more we look after nature the more we are taking care of ourselves.

So long, little ones. Live long and prosper, and remember that Balamku is waiting for you!

P.S. These four were the last ones to take to the beach, and we couldn't fail to notice that all four had some kind of  colored bandanas around their heads. We all think that pretty soon we will be hearing from these four ...

balamku babies turtles

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