S/V Delilah

A Blog to track the wanderings of the S/V Delilah, a 37-foot Tayana sailboat.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Wednesday, July 12
Chaguaramas Bay, Trinidad

It poured for most of the day yesterday, and we watched with a mixture of fascination and horror as a caramel-colored bloom of water made its way into the anchorage from a local river. Soon it had surrounded the boat. And with the wind blowing one direction, the tide pushing us another, and this new runoff pushing yet another, all the boats in the anchorage seemed to be facing different directions. We got awfully close to a catamaran, and since they had anchored first, it behooved us to up anchor and move...again...in the rain.

Dean was not thrilled about the job we did reanchoring, so he elected to skip the tour we had booked with some friends. We had planned to take a bus the northeast coast of Trinidad in the hopes of spotting (read this next part in a Jacques Cousteau voice) a rare and endangered leatherback turtle making her way up the beach to lay her eggs. The drive to this remote part of the island takes over two hours (four when there is horrendous traffic near the capitol, as there was last night). Because the turtles generally only lay their eggs at night, we left at dinnertime and didn't expect to return before two in the morning. It's a long trip, but the bus we were taking was air conditioned, and unlike the public maxi taxis, it had enough seats for everyone--no sharing necessary. We even were able to watch movies on the way there and back.

Turtle egg laying season officially lasts from March through August, with each turtle returning to the beach seven times--once every eight or ten days--to dig a three-foot deep hole in the sand and lay about 100 eggs. About six weeks later, if all goes well, the baby turtles hatch from those eggs and make a beeline for the ocean. Most turtles have finished laying by the end of June, so we were not guaranteed that we would see anything more than sand and some empty egg shells, but since Trinidad is one of the few places in the world where these turtles come to lay eggs, and since I might never have the chance again, I thought it was worth the effort.

We arrived at the beach by 9 o'clock, and the locals, who have been trained by biologists to lead tours and watch out for the welfare of these prehistoric-looking turtles, rushed us down to the beach, as a couple of turtles had just come up from the surf and started digging. We were warned not to take flash photographs, as that disorients the turtles, so you'll have to rely on my descriptions of what happened next.

We didn't see the first turtle on the beach until we had almost stepped on her. She had hauled herself out of the water using her flippers, but was either spooked us or discouraged by the steep incline on that part of the beach, so she turned back to the water immediately. The guide told us she would swim further down the beach and try another spot.

The second turtle we came across was bigger, about four feet long, and she had already started to dig a hole for her eggs. Her back flippers looked rather floppy and useless, but she was able to reach down behind herself and scoop the dirt out of a narrow hole. Then she went into what the guide would describe as a trance, and she began laying eggs in the hole. During this part the turtle seemed fairly oblivious to the crowd of people around her, and the guide allowed us move up to her soccer ball-sized head. I was able to touch her thick skin and the smooth shell, which is soft, unlike the shells of other turtles I've seen.

After her eggs were laid, the turtle packed earth down on top of them using her back flippers, and then with her powerful, long front flippers, she flung sand all around the area to help disguise the location of the nest.

It looked to me like she was pretty exhausted by then, but she still had to haul all 1,000 pounds of herself back down the beach to the water. Just that part took ten minutes. The whole process must have taken over an hour, but it was fascinating watching her work. I could have stood there all night.

Before we left we were brought into a small hut, where the guides had kept back a few newborn turtles that had hatched just as we were arriving. They were so tiny, just a few inches long, compared to the tabletop-size mothers that had just come up the beach. I was allowed to hold one little guy, and he (or she) stopped trying to swim and lay there quietly when placed in my hands.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

your turtle story reminds me of our attempt to see turtle egg laying in Mexican...we were always 1st up (but not best dressed) to walk the beach, came across what looked like the telltale signs of a turtle laying eggs, ran to hotel lobby to get them to fence off area, got politely appeased but no fence. That night Stephen convinced me to stay out on the beach all night if necessary to see this miracle....we waited and waited and finally I couldn't help it. In Charlie Brown's little sister's tone I ranted "thats it, I've wasted my night here for nothing, there is no great pumpkin or turle nesting!!!" we laughed for a long time and retired to the room - turtless. Congrats on your good fortune. RFender

7:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home