The Baby Sea Turtle Rescue
By Katie Franklin
Vacationing near Cancun Mexico at dinner we have a view of the beach. It is dark out and I see people on the sand with flash lights. There are about four to five people and I have a hunch that they could be escorting baby sea turtles out to sea. Many of the resorts have special fenced in areas with sea turtle eggs waiting to hatch and then they are rleased once they break free of their shells! I get the urge to go check it out and tell Matthias that I will meet him back at the room hurrying off to the shore.
I arrive at the beach and there are still two people. I ask if they are seeing the baby sea turtles. They tell me they are! I am excited and start scanning the beach. Within a minute I see one at the same time as the other woman. But the turtle is headed towards the resort, away from the ocean! The people have been helping the sea turtles because they are all going the wrong direction. They are confused by the lights from the resorts. “Sea turtle hatchlings instinctively head toward the light, sensing the moon and stars reflected on the water.” (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/oil-spill-fines-pay-for-turtle-saving-led-lights/)
I gather up the little newborn in my hands and we go the few steps over to the shore. I put it on the ground and it immediately starts heading back towards the resort again! Even after waves washed over its little body it turned back towards the resort. So I finally had to toss the little guy into the waves far enough so it couldn’t crawl out. I was appreciative that it was a calm ocean. I would feel terrible throwing a tiny baby turtle into rough seas. The baby seemed so vulnerable as it is. One statistic estimates 1 in 1000 babies make it to adulthood. There is a time period as much as 10 years of their life where they disappear into the ocean called the “lost years”.
“From the time the hatchlings take their first swim until they return to coastal waters to forage as juveniles may be as long as a decade. This period of time is often referred to as the "lost years" since following sea turtles movements during this phase is difficult and their whereabouts are often unknown.” (https://www.seeturtles.org/sea-turtle-life-cycle/) They don’t return to the shoreline until they are the size of dinner plates and less vulnerable to the predators.
I said good-night after not finding any further stragglers on the beach. But half way up to my room I realized I didn’t have my shoes. I ran back to the beach remembering that I had dropped them on the beach when I saw the tiny turtle. After I found my sandals a thought occurred to me. “What if there are more turtles lost but closer to the resort?!” I made my way up to the foundation of the resort where to my great exhilaration found more than ten babies fruitlessly paddling on the sand up against the cement boundary. I feel like a mother in a panic and drop my sandals down again. I excitedly review ideas for how to best get them all down to the shore. Maybe I can pile them all in my shawl? No! Their tiny flippers will get tangled in the mesh. I quickly decided to just grab two at a time and run down to shore making trips back and forth.
I grabbed two and held them as gently as I could with their busy little flippers making it awkward. I ran to the shore, this time not hesitating as much as I gently tossed them with a prayer into the first little wave. I tried to make sure the best I could that they wouldn’t come out of the water again. I ran back several times repeating this delivery and prayer sending them to their fate in the ocean and away from the crazy tourist facade. The land here in Cancun is almost barron of wildlife habitat because it is a skinny strip of land filled with resorts. The wildlife is mostly the ocean here or in the sky where the frigate birds soar all day long like kites above. Or on the other side there is a tiny strip of jungle where I could see an iguana here or there and lots of litter on both shorelines.
After a few runs in the dark alone a couple tourists sat on some swing seats in front of a beach bar that was closed. I called over to them in English that if they saw baby turtles that I am bringing them over to the ocean. The young woman called back obviously a Spanish speaker, “Tortuga?” Then I rushed off with what was possibly one of the final baby sea turtle deposits to the sea. When I returned I found the couple had turned on a light and were looking around with their phone. They had obviously figured out what I meant and we searched together. We found one more straggler and I offered for them to carry it to the ocean. The young man of the couple picked it up tentatively and the young woman offered her hands in gesture to cradle it. We all walked together to bring the last one to the sea.
I explained as best I could how we had to get it into the waves or it would keep heading back to the resort. So he held it over the shore with the young woman’s encouragement to go further and he looked at me asking for approval. I gave the affirmative and he gently tossed it into a small wave. We all felt the awe of the moment and said our good-byes….”A dios” I said with a resigned and slightly incredulous laugh at the experience.
The incredible world of the turtle. Nature teaches us about our vulnerability and about each amazing and unique journey. I was comforted to feel the mutual compassion of fellow human beings and how so many of us really do care and want to be the caretakers we are meant to be.