Children see a leatherback on a field trip to Playa Grande.
Photo courtesy of Earthwatch Institute
Children See Turtle at Playa Grande
by Meg Warren

The big excitement today was the arrival of 37 schoolchildren from Matapalo. Although their school is less than five miles away from Playa Grande, many of the children have never seen a leatherback turtle, nor even visited the beach. The ride from school in a colorful, open truck, bumping up and down over the washed-out dirt roads, was as exciting as any Disney adventure.

Lining up two by two, they filed into the Park Museum to view a display of what they would hopefully see later that night. I emphasize the word hopefully because you never know for sure if the leatherbacks will come ashore every night.

The Park Director, Sr. Rotney Piedra, cautioned the children to be very quiet on the beach. "Silencio... la baula es un animal muy nervosa," said Piedra. He explained that the turtle could become easily frightened by the noise or lights, and return to the water without nesting.

To pass the time, the children ate snacks and played games. One game was played in a circle, like Duck, Duck Goose. I found out later the game was called the Raccoon and Cat.

At 8 p.m., still no turtles, and it was time to go home. Disappointed, the children piled back into the truck.

Then our luck changed. Just as we were ready to leave, a park guard radioed from the beach "turtle at marker 21." Everyone got out of the truck, and in small groups of 10 to 12, we trooped out onto the dark beach. The walk seemed to take forever. But, sure enough, shortly after marker 20 we saw the tracks. The children got down on their knees in disbelief to touch the tracks.

We then took turns, each group approaching the turtle from behind to observe her digging and the eggs dropping into the nest cavity in twos and threes. I heard whispers of "muy grande" (very big).

Later that night, after the children had gone home, the museum director showed me a picture that one of the children had drawn. It showed a turtle laying eggs. Underneath was written "No molestar las tortugas. Su libertad es muy importante como la de nosotros." (Don't disturb the turtles. Their freedom is very important, like our own.)