Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Green Turtle hatchling

Eco-tourism is big business here in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Massive numbers of eco-tourists roam the T-shirt shops by day, and come out on the beach around sunset. Most people who come here, do so to see this: a baby Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas. Tortuguero is one of the most important breeding areas for this species of sea turtle, and most of the Caribbean population hails from only a few beaches in Tortuguero.

At night, female turtles emerge from the sea to lay their eggs in holes they dig on the beach. They carefully cover up their brood, and return to the sea. The eggs will hatch after about 60 days or so, and the hatchlings then dig themselves out and head to the water. This usually also happens at night, to avoid predators, as well as hot sand, as much as possible.

When I found the hatchling late yesterday afternoon, it was half hid in a small pit of sand. Three Common Black Hawks, including this juvenile, were eyeing it. Hatchlings have to make the 15 - 20 m journey to sea trying not to get eaten by tiger herons, black vultures, crabs, and apparently also black hawks. I decided to escort it a little.

Made it!

Once they reach the sea, however, they are still not safe and I'm sure a fair number gets picked off by Magnificent Frigatebirds. The Green Turtles themselves, unlike most sea turtles but probably like many eco-tourists, are vegetarians.

Postscript 19 November 2010
I was not previously aware of this, but Green Turtle hatchlings need to be left alone and should not be picked up. Even though the journey across the beach to the ocean is only 25 m, they need to make that journey on their own, as imprinting of the beach's tactile qualities may help them remember it as adults later on. Had I known this, I would not have picked up the hatchling.

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