Conservation of Sea Turtles
La Tortuga Viva successfully released more than 95,000 baby sea turtles in 2017. The majority of these sea turtles are the Olive Ridley, listed as ‘vulnerable’ in status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but we also had the critically endangered Leatherback and Black turtle hatchlings make their way to our beach. Their work, which they strive to perform seven days a week, 365 days a year, ensures that eggs laid by mother turtles on Playa Icacos result in new hatchlings returned to the ocean.
Collecting and caring for sea turtle eggs is a full-time job and volunteers work around the clock. If conditions allow, volunteers patrol up to 18 kilometers of beach every night. Typically, each set of volunteers start their patrol around 3 AM and work until sun rise. During the low season for nesting turtles (January-May), volunteers will find no more than a handful of nests every night. During peak turtle season, starting around June and going into October, the beach is home to hundreds of nesting turtles and volunteers are able to collect up to 30 nests during one shift.
The Olive Ridley (“Golfina”), Green (“Prieta”) and the highly endangered Leatherback (“Laúd”) sea turtles regularly nest along this undeveloped stretch of beach. Volunteers are able to easily locate nests by looking at the tracks in the sand with each species having their own distinct set of tracks.
Once the mama turtle has laid her eggs, the volunteers proceed to carefully count and transfer the eggs into a plastic bag and write the total number of eggs on the bag. Once they arrive back at the sanctuary, they place eggs at the proper depth to ensure optimal conditions. They write all pertinent information including: nest number, number of eggs, date, and volunteer names on a marker and place it above the re-buried eggs. The rows of planted markers give the sanctuary an odd, funerary look that is out of sync with the biological processes occurring underground.
Incubation periods vary from 45 to 70 days depending on the species of turtle and the temperature of the nest. As the expected hatch date nears, volunteers place a modified plastic bucket around the nest in an effort to conserve hatchlings energy stores. Baby turtles emerge from their eggs and then crawl upward to emerge from the sand. After all baby turtles have hatched, volunteers perform a final count and then prepare the hatchlings for release into the ocean. The number of hatchlings released are documented on a shared data notebook and at the end of month, they use these numbers to determine hatchling success rate for each species.
Volunteers personally release the hatchlings to reduce the threat from birds and crabs. Playa Viva guests frequently participate in the release, aiding the young turtles as the totter toward the sea. These preventative actions increase the number of baby sea turtles that make it to the ocean and aid the recovery of endangered sea turtle populations.