Published: August 31st 2009August 30th 2009
Watching for Eggs
This local is waiting for her to be done so he can steal her eggs.
I am posting this blog as a public post, as it involved travel and something awesome to do in a southern part of Honduras! For those of you following my private blog, I have posted a few entries in the last couple weeks so if you are still having problems let me know. I haven't been getting any comments on the 2 most recent so I am slightly concerned.
Anyways, this past weekend I went on an awesome trip that Sarah T. heard about and then passed along to a bunch of the other teachers.
The organization that we went with is called "Proyecto de Protección de la Tortuga Golfina" (Project for the Protection of Olive Ridley Turtles).
Olive Ridley turtles are the smallest species of sea turtles. They are listed as an endangered species but although their numbers seem to be dwindling in the Atlantic Ocean, their numbers seem to be rising in the Pacific Ocean. This is exactly where we were - the Pacific Ocean. I hadn't been in the Pacific since I was 18 months old and in Hawaii!
Sarah T., Libby, Kallie, Ismael & Ana (married), and myself traveled after school to meet
the bus to take us down to the southern coast of Honduras to a place called Punta Raton.
The object of the weekend was to help guard the turtle eggs during the process of turtle nesting (turtle eggs are considered a delicacy) as well as help to clean up the beach... so we thought.
Kallie bought a tent at the grocery store earlier in the week and so we shared the tent and camped out with the rest of our group in the site.
The bus trip there took about 3.5 hours but we were in a pretty nice bus with A/C so it was fine. It is HOT down there though. It felt at least 10 degrees hotter than here.
By the time we arrived, it was dark so we pitched the tents in the dark, went to watch the lightening storm from the beach (which was about 50 meters from our site), then went to get some fried fish at a neighbouring house. We paid the woman about $4 each and received a nice-sized fish. The fried fish in Honduras looks as though it's been taken from the sea and thrown into a frying
Mother Removed From Nest
These locals took the mother from her nest as soon as she was done so that they could take the eggs.
pan. They don't remove skin or bones or the head. It's kinda funny to have your food looking at you as you eat it, but it tasted great.
That night we thought we'd be patrolling the beach and guarding eggs from being taken. We later found out that it's almost impossible to stop the locals from taking the eggs. Unless we were to be the ones to spot the turtle first, whoever spots the turtle gets claim to the eggs. I never realized how much of a business this was here until this weekend.
Jorge was our guide but there was a University prof from a University in California (but he's actually Canadian!) who was there as well. His name was Steve and he informed us that his organization ProTECTOR
is trying to understand the biology and ecology of the sea turtles in Honduras (as NO research had ever been done in the area before) as well as trying to educate the locals on the turtles as well.
I felt like I was living in a scary documentary (and actually one was being shot for PBS while we were there so we may be in
it!) but this is the reality:
- There is a Honduran law that locals are only allowed to take 50% of the eggs layed by a turtle during her nesting
- No Honduran follows this law. They take 100% of the usable eggs and sell them to markets or sell them at events like soccer games, where people take a shot of a turtle egg mixed with some alcohol as an aphrodisiac.
- They will make about 30Lempiras (approx $1.50 USD) for every dozen eggs they collect.
- Most of these poachers do not realize the reason for the dwindling population in sea turtles. Years ago hundreds of turtles used to flood the beaches to nest. Now, there are MAYBE 7-8 per night.
- Most locals believe that the reason the numbers are dwindling is not because of the fact that they leave no eggs, but because in the last 2 years Steve and his team have started tagging some turtles in order to do research and see which turtles return and such. It's been a slow process and many of the locals don't like him tagging so he only gets in a couple a night. Locals seemed to always check for tags and
when they don't see them, they think it's because the tagged turtles don't want to come back due to the tagging.
They will take these to sell for the equivalent of about $1.50/dozen to be taken as shots as aphrodisiacs
- Turtles don't hit maturity until 25 years of age so it is a LONG time before they are ready to lay eggs. This means that the reduced numbers now are due to the egg collecting that happened 25 years ago and that 25 years from now, there may not be any turtles left in the area. These Hondurans don't seem to understand that.
- There are 25 days in September (the 1st-25th) when it is illegal for locals to take any of the turtle eggs. This is apparently the high month of the 6 month season. Apparently the locals only give up the eggs to the organization (who then relocates the eggs to a hatchery where the eggs are counted, recorded, and reburied in the sand (but in a safe, fenced in area) as a trade for food during this month, as there are no police enforcing this rule.
The first night we expected to go out to save eggs. There was nothing happening on the beach for a long while but then we heard commotion further down
the beach and went to check it out. There was a turtle laying her eggs. We were able to see the hold she had dug (AMAZING how intricate the hole is) and the eggs. We knew the locals (several young kids - MAYBE 14 years of age) had claim to the eggs so we didn't expect to stop them. What I DIDN'T know was what would happen next. Usually the turtle covers back up her eggs with sand then pats herself around the nest, stomping on the sand. Then she makes the journey back to the ocean. Not these poor turtles. As SOON as she started pushing the sand to cover up her eggs, one of the kids picked up the turtle by her shell. Her legs were flapping. I screamed. I'll never forget the sound. I heard it several times this weekend. The boy placed her further away in the sand and she started kicking sand as though she were still on her nest. She was so confused. She was patting the sand but then started going in circles and kept coming back to the nest. As this was happening, the kids were reaching into the nest hole and
pulling out the eggs. One kid took off his dirty t-shirt to collect the eggs in it. They threw the broken ones or the ones that were too small off to the side. I felt like I was watching drug trafficking. I felt so uneasy about the whole thing.
The turtle came over at one point to the eggs they had discarded. She was so confused. Tears welled up in my eyes.
The turtle eventually made it back to the water. I thought the kids were being asses by waving a light in her eyes in front of her, but later found out this helps as she thinks it the reflection of the moon in the ocean.
It was hard to fall asleep that night. I really felt sad... and disappointed. Because it wasn't the month of Sept, there was nothing we could do to stop them.
Saturday we woke up and a few of us walked along the beach for at least an hour collecting cool shells and sand dollars. There were SO many. We hung around camp for awhile and then walked for what seemed like an hour along the beach to a place
where we stayed for a few hours. It was about 10 when we arrived and we ordered fried fish (one of 2 things available on the menu - other one being shellfish of some sort) to be ready at noon. We lied on the beach for a little while and went in the ocean for a bit too. It was so hot! We needed it! (oh! I also forgot to mention there was only a tiny shower in which we couldn't have a real shower and no running water anywhere else so no flushing toilet, no real showering, and no sink. We were dirty!)
After our fish lunch, we sat for a long while talking then waited for the passing thunderstorm then walked back to camp. Along the way we saw several washed up fish (the tide was WAY out this time) as well as a jellyfish. I touched it! Apparently it wasn't a stinging one.
Once back at camp, we took makeshift showers, relocated 2 of our tents (Mine and Kallie's was the only tent out of 3 that hadn't been ransacked by ants), cleaned up the trash in the area that will later be the hatchery,
View from restaurant where we ate lunch on Saturday
ate PB and crackers for dinner (none of us could stand the thought of more fish) and hung out in the "tree fort" where we relocated their tents to.
Once 8pm hit, we rejoined our group (plus Steve and his team) on the beach to try to find more turtles. We started by spreading out along the beach at different "look out" points. The unwritten rule of this job is that whoever spots the turtle first, gets the eggs. I guess they were hoping we'd see some first.
After about an hour, that plan stopped and we just joined Steve and his group and were showing him an area where the nest from the previous night was and to show him how many other nests it looked like there had been in that specific area. As we were doing this, a local was telling us to move back as a turtle was approaching to nest. As she was crawling around, a young boy ran past with a turtle on his head, us hearing the flapping sound of the legs. Apparently these locals don't like to wait for the turtle to pick a spot. They'll claim them right out
Kiss My Fish
Kissing the remnants of our lunches.
of the ocean and bring them up to this area where we were, in order to try to make the process faster. They don't care about the turtle. They want the eggs.
So there we were, 2 turtles in one location. Steve was happy because although we wouldn't get the eggs, he had his things to tag the turtles. Steve left to find the rest of our group, while I tried to talk to the guy who had the claims on the first turtle. We stood far from her as she dug her nest (as they will get scared and go back out to sea) although this man allowed a few of us (one at a time though) to crawl up close to where she was in order to see how she was digging the hole. It was amazing to see.
I asked the man that if they take ALL the eggs, how will there ever be more turtles? He blamed the fewer number of turtles on the fact that Steve's been tagging. Last year there were approx 30 turtles a night. This weekend I saw 4 total. This man let us watch the turtle drop her eggs
but then argued with Steve over letting him tag her. This man would have none of it. Ana was amazing. She's a reporter at home for a Spanish station so Steve was using her to translate everything between the two, as she filmed it with her camera. The situation got quite intense. Finally Steve gave up, as the 2nd turtle had now finished laying her eggs and those people didn't care if he tagged her. So off we all went. They measured her and wrote down the info then tagged her and lead her back to the ocean. When this was done, we rediscovered the 1st turtle who had now been deserted by the man who wouldn't let us do it in the first place. Steve got to work measuring this one too. I finally felt like we at least witnessed SOMETHING good.
At this point there was a third turtle but Kallie, Sarah, Libby, and I headed back to bed. It was about 10:30pm at this point and I had been awake since 6am. We later found out they could not tag the 3rd turtle, as the same guy had claims to this one and would have nothing
We found this dead on on the beach. It was upside down like this.
to do with it.
Sunday (today) was a chill day. I still woke up at 6am, as my recently purchased airmatress had no air and I was sleeping on the ground. I was hot and sticky (and dirty!) and just wanted out of the tent. I went down to the beach where I sat and read for an hour. Once we were all up, ready to go, and had milled around for a couple hours, we set back for Tegus. We stopped once for lunch (fried chicken at 10:30am!) and then again when the bus had to change it's tire. The second stop was an animal rescue centre/zoo. They were animals that were rescued from people's homes (trying to keep them as pets), from circuses, or from being hunted. There were pumas, monkeys, ostriches, birds and much more. Between that and the visitors to our campsite this weekend (we had cows, horses, dogs, and a pig) we felt like we were on Old MacDonald's farm.
Got home and took a half hour shower. I was gross but it felt SO nice. Overall, an enjoyable weekend; definitely eye-opening. We're thinking of going back in a few weeks so that
Right Side Up
feels like gelatin
we can actually save some eggs during the month of September. We may also go back in October or November to watch them hatch!
There are more photos below