by Meg Warren, team member
The beach was pitch black. I could not even see my hands. But we
were careful not to use any light not even our special red-filtered
mini-flashlights so as not to scare turtles from coming up on the beach. I was glad that I was not alone. Matt, the team leader for the early shift, was with me. Our shift would end at midnight.
We started walking from Marker 7 in front of Las Tortugas Hotel down
towards the hatchery at Marker 6. Within ten meters Matt heard a rustling
in the bushes. Directly in front of us was a huge dark mass... a
leatherback trying to find a nesting spot in the dense vegetation.
There were too many roots in her way and she moved to a sandier spot.
With powerful strokes of her front flippers she swept aside the sand to
create a shallow pit. Using her rear flippers like little shovels first
the right, then the left she began to dig a hole. Matt instructed me to
wait until she was finished and then collect the eggs. During this stage
the turtle is not responsive to her environment, so you do not risk
The digging seemed to last forever. Then there was a pause. The eggs
began to fall. With my light I looked down into the hole, now over 3 feet
deep. No wonder it had taken so long! She had only half of her left
flipper, a piece of it perhaps bitten off by a shark. It was taking her
twice as long to dig a hole deep enough.
While Matt took measurements and scanned tags, I reached down into the
hole with my sterile gloves my arm in the hole up to my shoulder
taking out the eggs one by one... 83 yolked; 52 yolkless ...into a
plastic garbage bag.
Matt read off identifying tags: left tag, 030-361-291, and right
tag: 030-383-890, which I recorded. However, to me this turtle was not
just a number. I think I will really remember her as "Lefty."
Two hours later, Lefty began to haul herself back to the sea,
zigzagging from side to side. Was she unable to go in a straight line
because of her half flipper? Would she make it? Finally, she reached
the water line and disappeared.
I was relieved. She had returned to the water, her eggs would be
safe in the hatchery protected from raccoons, high tides, and the
trampling feet of tourists. Tomorrow, I will find out more about this
special lady from the record of her previous taggings.