It’s Sea Turtle Season

Go out to a turtle toss and help the little guys make it to water
BY: JOHN DOOLITLLE

It’s that time of the year again, time to toss the baby sea turtles out to sea and wish them well on their journey. Ok, we’re kidding about the tossing part, you don’t actually do that. But if you go to a turtle release out at the Asupmatoma camp in Rancho San Cristobal, off Highway 1 on the way to Todos Santos, you can help baby sea turtles get safely to the ocean.

turtle.JPGAsupmatoma is a non-profit organization that has been around for more than two decades. Their approach to sea turtle conservation is three-pronged: They do research, provide environmental education to student groups, and monitor sea turtles and their nests.

Right now, there are about 300 nests being monitored at Rancho San Cristobal and another 400 at their Suspiro Beach site. They’ll have a total of around 1,000 nests by the end of the season. Each nest holds an average of 100 eggs. We’ll do the math for you, that’s roughly 100,000 turtle eggs that Asupmatoma is monitoring and caring for.

The marine biologists and the volunteers that work at San Cristobal patrol the beaches every night, from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., from July to October. They look for mama sea turtles who are laying eggs, so they can safely transport the eggs to another nest in their enclosed hatchery. The patrollers are on a time crunch, since eggs can only be transported within four hours of being lain.

From September to December is when all those nests start coming alive, with baby sea turtles fighting their way through the sand to get to the surface. That’s where the biologists, volunteers and you guys come in. You can go out and help dig up the nests, clearing the way so the baby turtles don’t have to expend so much energy before making their way to the water.

The staff encourages you to get right in there, on your knees in the sand, scooping out sand with yours hands. We know you’ll be excited, but don’t dig too furiously. You don’t want to poke a baby sea turtle in the eye.

You might also encounter some unpleasant surprises while you dig. Those include baby sea turtles who didn’t make it, as well as turtle egg shells and sand crawling with maggots. Don’t let it deter you from going out there and experiencing a turtle release, it’s still a very cool experience. Just be prepared; and if you plan on taking the kids with you, it’s a very good opportunity to talk about the circle of life.

Remember, this is nature and it’s not always pretty. Abilene Colin, the program director, says that while it’d be ideal for every nest to be full of live, healthy baby turtles, that’s just not the way it works. Sometimes you get a happy nest, sometimes you get a sad nest, she says. On our dig, we definitely got a sad nest, with just one lone little turtle in there.

Abilene tells me the nest we’re digging in was a happy one a couple days before; 45 turtles had already hatched from it and made their way to the ocean. (We dug up a lot of their empty shells as well, all of which Abilene set aside to be counted and categorizes).

Since the turtle we dug up was now the lone survivor in the nest, we decided to name him Lucky. He’s lucky he made it, lucky we dug him out, and he’ll need a lot of luck to survive out in the wild.

Abilene says that when born in the wild, only about 10% of baby sea turtles survive. The survival rate at Asupmatoma is 80%. But even with Lucky’s advantage of being born at Rancho San Cristobal, he still has a hard road ahead of him. Just one in 1,000 sea turtles make it to adulthood.

Abilene tells me this as we’re watching Lucky crawl along the sand, instinctually drawn to the sound of the water. Watching the waves crashing against the shore, just waiting to swallow up tiny little Lucky, you wonder how he can possibly make it on his own. The mama sea turtle has already done her part by laying the eggs, so she won’t be any help. He’s on his own to figure out how to avoid predators and find food.

If you’d like to go out to Rancho San Cristobal and help other little turtles, Asupmatoma hosts releases in the evenings around 5:30 p.m. Your need to schedule your visit, and you can do that by emailing info@Asupmatoma.org.

By the way, Asupmatoma relies on donations to keep its doors open. Abilene estimated that it takes about $50,000 USD a year to run the turtle operation. They do a lot for the sea turtles, so would it kill you to throw some cash their way? There’s a few different ways you can donate: By “adopting” one of the baby sea turtles you release for $20 USD; adopting a nest for $40; or going out on a night of patrol for $25.

For more information, visit their (Spanish) website at asupmatoma.org or find them on Facebook at Facebook.com/Asupmatoma.