The morning of July 24th, 2013 began with a fair amount of rain, and as I left my home in the early morning for a workout I came across one of our night security officers, Silvino, swaddled in his black rainsuit. We exchanged greetings, and in a very matter of fact way he related to me the events he had witnessed during the night. The intruders arrived by sea in the wee hours of the morning, and if not for Silvino’s unwavering vigilance, they would have passed undetected and carried out their purpose. I had seen the signs of a previous attempt several days before, but did not think our marine visitors would try again. The signs they left behind were unmistakable. The tracks and the disturbed sand left no doubt that sea turtles were nesting on the beaches of Cocoplum.
Three types of sea turtle are known to nest in Belize. These are the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas). The eggs that lay in at least 3 sites on the beach here are suspected to be hawksbill or green or a mixture of both. It is exciting for us here at Cocoplum as even though not a day goes by where we don’t see a bushrabbit scampering around, a roadside hawk on the lookout for prey, or a gray fox darting across the street, we never knew we were a nesting site for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle. Eggs from both hawksbill and green turtles take between 45 and 60 days to hatch. Once out in the open, the recently hatched turtles make a mad dash for the water while doing their best to avoid being eaten by a variety of predators. The real journey begins for those who do make it to the sea. Most turtles will spend their early lives in open water, eating from the surface. When a turtle reaches 20-30 years old it is considered sexually mature, and often migrates to the reef. It is at this age that most divers observe turtles on the reef either eating, sleeping or looking for love. And on that note…
Female turtles will mate with multiple males and will nest up to 8 times in a season. Eggs are laid 2-3 weeks after mating, and hatch within two months after that. Which is where Silvino and the rest of the Cocoplum security staff come in. In an effort to give our endangered friends a better chance in the wild, our on-site security officers will be monitoring the nesting sites for activity and will be on hand to clear the way to the sea for our little friends, and keep predatory birds, dogs, foxes, racoons, and any other manner of creature that would try to make a meal of them away. However, this help cannot extend as far as gathering the turtles in a bucket and placing them in the sea. The turtles need to make their own way, as it is theorized that this crawl to the sea somehow imprints the location of the nesting beach onto the turtles’ consciousness and allows roughly 50% of females to return to nest at the very same beach they hatched on(the other 50% return to the same area, but may wind up on a different beach), a feat that can only be described as miraculous considering that a turtle will travel thousands of miles in the open ocean over the course of its life.
Today as I type the sea is calm, the sun is shining, and below the sands of our wide beach here at Cocoplum slumber hundreds of little turtles, waiting for a shot at life. Only one in a thousand hatchlings will make it to adulthood, but here at Cocoplum between our tireless landscaping crew and our vigilant security team, we plan to do everything we can to give our little friends a fighting chance.
Article by Aaron Krohn
Scientific facts taken from a 2010 Turtle Survey and Training report done by Annelise Hagan, PhD.