NESTING LEATHERBACK TURTLES


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South America » Suriname » Commewijne » Matapica
August 3rd 2009
Published: August 3rd 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Dropped my backpack at Zus and Zo and headed to the Blue Frog office a couple minutes walking, a number of people are already there and from what I gathered from our guide Arol, they are all Dutch! But everyone can understand English, though Arol has to explain things to me in English as I cant speak Dutch. We drove about 15 minutes to a dock where we took a Javanese style big boat to do a bit of dolphin spotting in the Surinam river. We spotted a number of them in pockets but very difficult to take photos of as they disappear quickly as they appear, I should have just made a video. We got off at New Amsterdam which way back then was a prosperous plantation processing sugar cane, It's an open air museum and we walked around trying to learn the history of slavery and the origins of the people of today's Surinam, a melting pot of different cultures and races yet get along with each other nicely. There was a fort here too built to protect the interest of plantation owners. Anyway I got bored very quickly and walked around on my own, it was too hot
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Giant Leatherback turtle
and humid for me to sit still, Arol the guide called me and we went outside to see the building for ammunitions and gunpowder, meanwhile he had ordered a Javanese box lunch for us. We picked it up and got back to the boat where we had them, noodles and rive with chicken and spicy sauce, they also have lumpia, a Malay/Chinese spring roll, a bit different from the Philippines but same ingredients, veggies.

Before we left the plantation we tried rose apple(makopa) fruit, the variety they have are very delicious, not so sweet but has a fruity/perfumy after taste, bizarre, never had such a variety before, highly recommended, gonna search for them in the Central Market when I get back to Parbo. We got back on the big boat and got dropped off at a town called Margherite something, here we changed to a smaller boat and went through a smelly and dirty canal at the end of it was a dam/dike and we have to get of the boat and lift it and push it to slide in one of them wooden plank to reach the other side. We got on again and this time its a swampy area, our boat driver is went fast and furious doing moves and stunts, making sharp turns while speeding up, we quite enjoyed it but at times worried if we fell in the water it's a putrid mix of soupy muddy liquid. Some parts are ok but mostly narrow passages in a swampy area. After about an hour and a half we arrived at the entrance to the beach at Matapica and right away we saw a commotion at the beach, as we motored through we suddenly noticed a big lump on the beach like a boulder and then we realized the crowd is surrounding a huge female leatherback laying it's eggs in the sand at 3pm! Normally they come ashore at night. So I could barely contain myself and nearly jumped off the boat we got to the crowd and the turtle is covering up the nest already and this process took awhile about an hour or so, she puts sand back to the hole and pivots around and flaps about refilling the spot with sand, then grunts and groans at times as if suffering heavily, this gorgeous animal is so big and heavy about 500kgs, that every movement on land is a struggle.

It was such an incredible experience, I still could not believe our luck, we are at the end of the season for leatherbacks, well for any turtles species for that matter in this beach, nesting starts February and ends in early August. Four species of turtles nest hereand the only one time you see both is between last week of April to 3rd week in March, leatherbacks and Olive Ridley turtles. Next time I come back I go during that time. Anyway awed and humbled by this giant creatures determination to propagate it's species, we watched from a distance as it goes back to the water, touching is not allowed and Stinasu, a government agency protects these beautiful creatures by setting guidelines and rules to the national park. What was really cool the turtle nested only about 500 meters from our accomodation of bungalows!
We checked in to the bungalow and got sorted, quite excited cant wait to walk around and find some more. We are allowed to walk the beach until about 7pm then after that we have to go with a guide on patrol at certain times during the night. We chilled
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Giant Leatherback turtle
for a bit, I chatted with ny new friends in my group like I said all Dutch! i went for a walk, saw a group of people of asian heritage maybe Javanese, fishing with rods, one caught a stingray and cut the tail in front of me, the poor animal was bleeding and flapping about.

Watched the sunset and participated in baby turtle releasing, they took these younglings from the nest to show us tourists how they look like, but they only keep them for a day at the most, they have to get to the water soon as they hatch I was told. The babies were so cute and they somehow know which directions the beach are, sonar or magnetic field whatever they use to navigate is uncomprehensible. Soon as the night falls, rabid mozzies started to appear and bit us relenlessly, vicious suckers, virulent unrelenting MFs! the worse I ever experienced, worse than Africa,we all wore long sleeves and long pants and put on repellents and yet they still bit through the clothes, we spent most of the night swatting them, it helped a bit that there is a strong breeze every now and then, but they
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attack again in seconds soon as the wind dies down. Dinner was challene, only gas lamps and we cant see what we are eating between trying to see if the fish has bones and swatting the damn flies, lost my appetite and gave up. Our room is dorm beds which is quite nice and decent. the toilets are out the back clean and proper sit down toilets.

9pm the Stinasu dude starts his rounds so we all came with him and walked the moonlit beach in search for the fabulous nesting creatures, the giant leatherbacks. After 45 minutes of not seeing a single thing we rested for a bit then moved on for another 20 minutes or so, given up the guide said we go back and do another run past midnight. Though the breeze is refreshing it comes in spurts and in between we get pummeled by mozzies, their bites hurts, thank god for the mozzie nets in our beds.
Anyway 15 minutes later we saw small creatures crawling around the sand, baby leatherbacks that just hatched trying to get to sea, as it was a bit dark, we kind of tiptoed trying not to step on them.
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Giant Leatherback turtle , sizing her up
We located the nest and sat there watching every single one of them get to the beach under the moonlit sky, and the f---ing mozzie attacks! Well worth the sacrifice. What an experience! Only one at an average per nest lives to come back here and nest, about 60-80 eggs are laid each time but the mom lays average of 5 to 7 times in a season and it gets less towards the end of the laying season.


After that spectacle we walked back to the camp, then we saw a group of Stinasu volunteers huddled at one side of the beach, we discovered there is a huge leatherback turtle that just came ashore to lay it's eggs, we were told to wait as this is a critical time, if the turtle gets stressed and nervous it might go back to the sea. So we waited for it to dig the hole and once it started to lay eggs we were ushered in closer to watch. We cant shine a light on it and the backside was gently illuminated by a subtle red flashlight sow can see and film or photograph the moment, the Stinasu volunteer has to
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Giant Leatherback turtle
pull one of the hindlegs a bit, as the mother covers the hole with her hind legs as she lays eggs to protect them. I videod it and you can hear the eggs falling into the nest, about 10 minutes later the mother is finished and she started to cover the nest now, ever so gently alternating from left to right her hind legs take turns covering it with sand and gently patting it and it continues on until she is satisfied then put massive layers of sand to cover the hole and she pivots around the nest going in circles flapping and covering her tracks, this went on for ages about an hour or so, you can hear her groaning and teary eyed, I think its to protect her eyes from the sand which she flaps about as she covers her nest, we all got splattered as well those flippers are very powerful.

Once the spectacle is over we went to bed. Around 4am it poured down heavily, I got woken up by the sound of rain.Around 6am I heard my name being called by Arol, morning round is about to begin. For some reason he only woke
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Giant Leatherback turtle
me up the rest he left to sleep. We walked the same route as last night, the clouds are still threatening and the sun struggled to appear in the horizon, yellow and oranges paint the sky. We see a lot of turtle tracks, some new some very old, a few egg shells, some dead babies and dead fish and vultures to clean up mother nature's mess.After an hour walking we gave up and decided to go back, we decided to walk up the high tide line for a change and suddenly I noticed a hole like a crab hole with 2 dead baby turtles in its mouth and a 3rd one just inside the entrance. Arol the guide could not figure out what happened, I asked him if we can dig the hole and see if there is anyone still alive, we took turns and as he digs he figured maybe the sand was too compact for the babies to crawl up, maybe the tide came and compacted the sand and these babies got stuck in a consistency akin to soft cement. Lo and behold out of 13 babies we found one alive! It looked severly malnourished, the stomach is
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Giant Leatherback turtle
a bit distorted and at first barely moved, soon as we freed it and placed it on the surface it started crawling towards the sea, very slowly and struggling, but what a sight to see, we saved one! We dont know if this poor guy will survive long enough to recover from the trauma but hey it's better than leaving it stuck in the sand dying a slow death. Took half an hour for it to make it to the water and even then struggled to swim, eventually it disappeared in the foamy wave. Happy and contented we reutrned back to the camp for breakfast.





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Giant Leatherback turtle
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what's all the commotion on the beach???
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Giant Leatherback turtle
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Giant Leatherback turtle
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Giant Leatherback turtle
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Giant Leatherback turtle
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Giant Leatherback turtle
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Giant Leatherback turtle
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eggs being laid in the nite
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baby leatherbacks
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baby leatherbacks


24th May 2010

WOW
its really big. emily said its really cute.

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