“Can I touch one?” The boy stares at the 13 tiny creatures in the styrofoam cooler. A small crowd of people has followed the biologist as she carries the just-hatched Sea Turtles down to the spot where they were born. “Everyone please, we need to form groups. Each is responsible for one turtle.” Itzel Cardenas is the biologist in charge of protecting them. Today, she is here with representatives of PROFEPA (Mexico’s equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency), Alma Yanes, Sub Director for Ecology in Puerto Peñasco, the Mexican Navy (Marines), as well as CEDO, the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans. Together, they work to make sure that the nests of endangered sea turtles have the best chance of surviving until they are ready to venture out into the ocean
“Hold out your hands please” Itzel says to the boy. Each group selects one person to handle their turtle, who then gets a squirt of peroxide to keep any contamination from the animals. Adult or child, everyone chosen has the look of a kid at Christmas.
It is a late afternoon in October in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. One hour south of the U.S. border, ‘Rocky Point’ as it is also known, is the gateway to the Sea of Cortez and it’s wealth of ocean life. Homes line the dunes above the Las Conchas Beach, and it is here that these turtles will be released. “Once they mature, they will return to this same spot to lay their eggs.” says Paloma Valdivia, the Director for Education and Outreach at CEDO. “We have 3 nests this season, this is the first one that is ready. It takes around 46 days for them to hatch.”
Each group hovers over their chosen handler as they kneel to place the turtles on the sand. Then…they sit there, not moving or even looking very alive. “It’s the temperature” says Marco Navarro, an intern for CEDO. “They are sensitive to temperature. We keep them in one of those open beer coolers you see at a convenience store, because it lets us control the temperature. That’s also why we don’t leave them in their nest. A lot of the nests over heat during the summer, so this way more of them survive to swim out to sea.”
Adjusting to their new surroundings, the turtles start to move. As they perk up, their ‘crews’ form lines heading to the waves. Here and there, someone smooths the path ahead, but the sea turtles seem to know exactly where they want to go, needing no help. Some only manage to wiggly where they started. These will be brought back another time, perhaps when it is warmer.
Everyone holds their breath as the fastest one nears the waves. A couple of steps, then the foam takes hold of it, and tumbles it into the surf. Ouch! Now with some water to hold him up, those floppy steps become smooth paddles, quickly taking the turtle out to where he is just a black dot on the surface.
Today with a little help, five begin their lives in the ocean. Being part of a Mexican Sea Turtle release is a special event. The number of nests around Rocky Point is relatively small, but every one of them is important to the survival of the species. When you are in Puerto Peñasco, be sure to stop by CEDO to learn more about the local environment.
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By Richard Scott @ RockyPoint.com