One of the most memorable moments of our visit to Cambutal in the Azuero Peninsula of Panama was releasing baby turtles into the ocean. The turtle hatching season along this Pacific stretch of coastline runs from July to January and luckily our visit coincided with this weekly event (usually held on Sunday mornings).
The non-profit conservation and education organisation Tortguias led the tour, beginning shortly after sunrise. To protect the sea turtle eggs from poachers, volunteers transfer the eggs from the beaches to Tortguia’s secure turtle hatchery, next door to Hotel Playa Cambutal. After 45-50 days of incubation the eggs hatch and the babies are carefully released back into the ocean.
Releasing Baby Turtles
Before releasing the 1-day old turtles, a representative from Tortugias talked to us about the importance of preserving marine ecosystems, particularly endangered species such as the sea turtle. They also explained why it’s important to release the turtles several metres back from the water (as opposed to directly into the water).
Remarkably the baby turtles make a mental map of the beach as they scurry towards the ocean. This allows the female turtles to return many years later (in some cases up to 20 years!) to the very same beach where they hatched. Nature can be mind-blowing!
Video: The Life Cycle of the Sea Turtle
12 Fun Facts about Sea Turtles
- Sea turtles are one of the oldest creatures on Earth. The seven species that can be found today have been around over over 100 million years, since the time of the dinosaurs.
- Unlike other turtles, sea turtles can not hide their heads and feet under their shells.
- The temperature of the sand where the eggs are laid determines the sex of the turtle. Below 30 degrees centigrade (85 degrees Fahrenheit) is predominately male; above 30C is predominantly female.
- Sea turtle eggs looks very much like ping-pong balls. Females lay up to 150 eggs every 2-3 years.
- Sea turtles lay their eggs in a pyramid shape, alternating layers of eggs with a layer of sand.
- Male sea turtles almost never return to land, spending all their lives in the sea.
- To avoid predators such as birds and dogs, most eggs hatch at night.
- Humans are the greatest threat to sea turtles. Many get caught in fishing nets or in trash, poachers take their eggs for food and the lights on the land disorient turtles looking to lay their eggs.
- It’s estimated that only 10% of baby turtles make it to adulthood.
- Sea turtles cry! Glands that help them empty excess salt from their eyes make them look like their crying.
- They are considered an indicator species. The health and size of a sea turtle population can be a general indication of the health of the oceans and coasts they live in.
- Sea turtles can live for many years. The oldest turtle ever recorded passed away at the grand old age of 188!
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