Nesting Sea Turtles at La Playa Piratas
Daniel, our guide for the evening, picked us up shortly before dark. The group was small, just the two of us and two young women from Argentina. The night would be dark as it was broken cloud cover and the crescent moon would not rise until much later in the evening. We were off to search for the nesting Pacific Black Sea Turtles on the beaches north of Tamarindo.
We turned off the highway onto a dirt road rutted with washboards and after considerable bouncing and rattling about arrived at La Playa Piraticas. Daniel went ahead to scout for turtles coming ashore and our small group waited on the beach listening to the sound of the surf and watching the stars beginning to populate the heavens. The white foam of the waves was interspersed with several massive rock outcroppings silhouetted against the night sky under the faint glow of the stars. A few fireflies flickered here and there, pinpoints of light in the night.
Daniel emerged from the blackness and quickly led us in a single-file walk south along the beach for a few minutes to where we quietly approached and spied upon a female turtle who had already dug a shallow, circular depression about six feet in circumference. She had selected a spot high up on the beach, near the encroaching trees, and could dig no further down for rocks and roots impeded her progress. She continued to labor at the task for some time while we watched and then, exhausted, relinquished the chore and made her way awkwardly back towards the sea. We saw her enter the surf and a wave finally lifted her and restored her graceful movement.
We immediately regrouped and Daniel led us back north along the beach to find a second sea turtle whose black bulky form we had sensed, more than seen, arising from the waves when we had passed the spot previously. We remained on the beach until Daniel, using his red light, scouted around quietly to find where she had decided to nest. Stealthily we approached her, and remaining soundless and kneeling about two feet away to her rear watched as she created the circular depression for her nest alternating between her front and back flippers and pivoting from side to side about the depression to make sure that the depth remained consistent. It was fascinating to watch the intensity of her digging, flinging the sand out of the depression. Although we were crouched a couple of feet behind her as she dug, we were splattered by several flippersful of sand on the face and body from her powerful efforts.
Once she had completed her digging of the circular depression, it was roughly 18 inches deep and uniformly level and compacted. Work then began on digging a trench which would be at mid-line of the rear of her shell and would serve as the repository of the eggs. Using her rear flippers she bore into the soft sand to remove and spread the material. With the trench roughly 15 inches deep, and with no further fanfare, she began laying her eggs.
At this climax of the evening we found it necessary to relinquish our place at the nest after we hurriedly snapped a couple of pictures aided only by the guide’s red light. A government biologist, alerted by Daniel, came to take possession of eggs as they were deposited in the nest and transfer them to a beach where the danger of high tides exposing the nest to predators would be lessened.
It probably makes no difference that there is a taxonomic disagreement as to whether the Pacific Black Sea Turtle is a unique species, as some contend, or a subspecies of the more predominant Green Sea Turtle. The sad and sorry truth is that all sea turtles are endangered by extinction. Their dwindling numbers remain subject to depredation by natural foes such as land crabs, raccoons, gulls and other shore birds but thus it has always been. Man’s voracious appetite, along with habitat depletion, threatens the turtle’s existence. It was with this sobering reality that we savored the night as we watched the eggs, loosed from the mother’s body, fall into the sandy cavity of the nest designed through the millennia as the hatchery of the turtles.
By Richard and Anita, June, 2014