The Green Sea Turtles of Akumal, Mexico
About 90 miles south of Cancun is an area of sandy beaches which are home to the green sea turtles. Akumal is a small settlement blessed with two of the sandy beaches and within each bay grows the favorite food of green sea turtles – sea grass. From May to October female turtles come up out of the ocean onto the sand to lay their eggs in the middle of the night.
Early one morning in July, I noticed a mother turtle was still on the beach. During the night she had dug a large hole, laid her eggs, and now was covering them up with sand. She would flip the sand for a couple of minutes and then rest. She was exhausted.
After a short while she decided that her work was done and made for the sea.
During nesting season volunteers walk the beaches every night to protect the turtles and safe guard the nests. The nest are marked with a circle of stones and a cross telling people to stay away. Each nest is numbered and the location is recorded. When the date for hatching comes due, the stones around the nest are removed on the side facing the ocean.
The following year we returned to Akumal in November and found that most of the nests had hatched, but there was one left and the stones were now only in a half circle so I knew it was time. I checked on the nest several times a day but the sand on top never changed. Finally late one afternoon, I noticed one little turtle had crawled partially out. Once he made it to the top, he just rested and appeared almost to be dead.
About a half hour later out popped another little turtle and then another. Each one just rested and did nothing unless pushed out of the way by another turtle climbing up. A small circle of people gathered around the nest and a turtle guard joined us. Some people who owned smart phones downloaded an app so that their phones shown read lights on the nest which did not bother the turtles and I was able to take this picture.
A regular camera flash would have blinded the turtles and they would not have been able to find their way to the ocean.
About six hours after the first turtle climbed up, the ground around the nest started heaving and the guard asked us to dig a trench straight to the ocean to help guide the turtles. When the last turtle broke thru the sand, all the babies began at once to run as fast as they could. We used the back of our hands to gently restrict them to the trench. About three minutes, it was all over. Every baby turtle was in the ocean. The guard then dug out the nest with his hands and found 92 eggs had hatched.
A lucky 1 out of a 1000 will reach maturity and come back to Akumal to eat the sea grass and if it is a female, she will lay her eggs on the same beach.