Friday, December 20, 2013

Turtles 'R Us

Back in Grenada in early June we took an amazing trip to visit the Leatherback Turtle Preserve up the coast to Levera Beach.  (See earlier post “Turtles, Turtles, Turtles”)  It was a magical evening as we saw huge Leatherback turtles instinctually return to the exact same beach where they were hatched to lay their eggs.  We watched in amazement as they laid up to 100 eggs in a single nest and when finished by methodically covering all the eggs with sand using their flippers. The whole process was exhausting for the turtle, and once completed, she slowly lumbered back to the water's edge and swam off into the ocean thus completing the circle of their lives. Oftentimes you get to see the little hatchlings leaving their nests and heading towards the water, but we did not see any that night.

Five-year-old Leatherback sea turtle.

Once we arrived at Bequia and learned of a turtle sanctuary on the island we had to go see the turtles and help support the preservation effort.  We caught a taxi-truck from the main center of town and meandered over a winding road to the other side of the island.  We enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the exposed beaches on the windward side of the island.  After a much longer ride than we anticipated we decided to have the driver wait and bring us back instead of walking back. It would have taken us hours to get back to town.

You just can’t help yourself wanting to help these nearly extinct creatures and that is just what Orton King, a retired fisherman, decided to do when he established the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary on Bequia Island in 1995.  King takes the turtle eggs, primarily from endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtles and Atlantic Green Sea Turtles and rears the turtles until they are old enough to have a better chance of survival. 

Orton King tells visitors about his efforts to save the sea turtles.
King showed us around his impressive sanctuary and answered questions.  He had numerous pools with the tiny hatchlings, pools with a little older turtles, and a couple large pools with the 3-5 year old turtles.  They are fed fresh fish from a young age but I imagine they would instinctually know to also eat sea grass once out in their natural habitat.  The turtles are generally released around the age of 5 years to their beach of origin.  Since 2006 over 800 turtles have been returned to sea. That is a great outcome for all his efforts.

Baby sea turtles that have been rescued from their nests.

It would be a wonderful experience to be involved in helping to preserve the turtles' future for our children and their children.  We have been fortunate to visit a number of preserves and see the volunteers in action.  On Cumberland Island in Georgia we saw hundreds of protected Loggerhead Turtle nests along the coast being carefully watched and logged by volunteers.  At Grenada’s Turtle Preserve, we saw volunteers helping during the egg laying process by counting the number of eggs laid, and observing and recording other pertinent data.  And here in Bequia, Orton King dedicating 19 years toward preserving turtles in the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, we do our small part by buying our grandchildren books about turtles, t-shirts and other memorabilia with turtles, and swim with the turtles whenever given the chance. Maybe its just a stage I’m going through but I am truly fascinated by these turtles.

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