March 5, 2014

In and Out of the Quad-Cities: Turtles on our Mind

Contributed by Gail McPike and Toni Hall

Turtles, turtles and more turtles; rarely are turtles listed as the life of the party. We can’t even remember the last time we thought about turtles. Our guess would be the closest we came to even a tiny turtle thought came a couple of summers ago when we saw turtles basking near the lily pads just upstream from the Lindsay Park Water Taxi landing. But after our trip in January to the beaches of Puerto Vallarta, we are seeing turtles everywhere.

Before we relate our turtle story to you, let us digress. Current Trophy Husband Frank is terribly amused by this whole turtle-mania thing. Any mention of “the turtles” brings him back to his favorite band way back in 1967 when The Turtles knocked the Beatles out of their first number one spot on the radio hit parade with “So Happy Together.” He always breaks into song, “Imagine me and you. I do. I think about you day and night. It’s only right…” Somehow he doesn’t share our feeling for “the turtles.” But, we’re getting off the beaten track. Here’s our personal turtle story.

Back in January, we shifted scenery from snowy white snow, to snowy white beaches. From our balcony perch on the 24th floor of a Puerto Vallarta condo, we had a panoramic view of the beaches down below. Our friends Mark and Cathy from Ames seem to always be prepared with the right equipment for everything. Their travel bags contain everything from special cocktail forks to, well in this case, binoculars.

As we sat enjoying our morning coffee, Cathy spotted someone methodically digging inside a special fenced in area just off the main beach. Bringing her trusty binoculars into focus, she said, “That guy’s digging up eggs or something.” Curiosity got the best of us, so we threw on our best set of
sandals and headed out to explore.

When we arrived, we discovered the man with the shovel didn’t speak a word of English, and our Spanish is next to nada. So with some waving of hands, a few broken words and lots of pointing, he carried one of his five gallon buckets close to the fence. Peeking over, we could see the bucket was full of tiny baby turtles, hundreds of them. We shared an admiring nod and a smile. Then in his best Gringo, he said six. Actually, he said six over and over again, until we said, “Si, six tonight.” At that point, we didn’t know exactly what was going to
happen, but something big was scheduled for six.

Have you ever had one of those days where you knew something was going to happen but you weren’t quite sure what it would be? It was that kind of a day for us. Oh, we went about our normal activities, but the “six” thing weighed heavy on our minds. Close to the appointed hour, we headed down to the beach. Actually, we arrived a few minutes early. Nothing was going on. We milled around, still nothing. We actually walked down the beach and were headed back when we saw a group of people coming from the fenced in area; most were carrying a plastic bucket.

We walked up to the group and asked if anyone spoke English. To our delight, one young lady looked up and replied clearly to the affirmative. Our young lady was the regional biologist assigned to the saving the sea turtles that live on the shores of Banderas Bay. The area is the natural home of six species of sea turtles. Ours happened to be the Olive Ridley (Green Turtle) variety.

During the right season, momma sea turtles will climb onto the beach and dig a hole with her flippers. After laying her eggs, between 50 and 200 eggs, she refills the hole and swims away (which doesn’t win her any awards for mother of the year… just saying).

Our biologist friend and her staff comb the beach each evening looking for freshly filled holes. Once identified, they carefully dig up the eggs and move them to a protected area for incubation. About two months later the babies break out of the eggs and are harvested for return to the sea. And, that’s where we came on the scene.

Each of the cute little baby turtles was about the size of a quarter. They were all arms and legs and constantly crawling around in the buckets. The lady biologist explained that the lights of the hotels and resorts confuse the babies, so each release takes place in a different location. The group monitors the events taking place at the hotels to find the location with the least amount of ambient light.

Once dusk had turned to full night, the buckets were opened. There was no crowd, as this is done mostly in secret. The turtle rescue team drew a line in the sand about 18 inches from the water. Each of us was given a baby turtle to release, but the sheer numbers required that most (hundreds) were gingerly poured out of the bucket onto the line. Instinctively, the babies started crawling for the ocean. A few got hit by waves and were flipped around, but soon changed directions and re-headed toward the ocean. We saw our two turtles make it to the water… where they joined their momma and friends in playing turtle games.

We were so enthused by the experience that we commemorated the experience with turtle necklaces. Somewhere out there, our babies are swimming in the warm waters of the Pacific. That’s the story. We have turtles on our mind.

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