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The Cozumel turtles are hatching!

Actually, quite to the contrary, the Cozumel turtles are not actually hatching now because Spring is the season for the eggs to be laid! The eggs still have a couple months before they start hatching. So if it isn’t obvious by now, this blog update is a just few months late. No worries though, once Cozumel turtles start hatching I’ll get the video and photos of the egg laying up onto my blog!

So as I said, the eggs are getting laid right now, which means in roughly 2 months time the eggs will begin to hatch and volunteers will be needed to help excavate the nests. For those unfamiliar, we are not digging out a live, ready to hatch nest. In fact we show up the afternoon after the hatch to dig out the nest long after the newest crop of Cozumel turtles have began their ocean journey.

Cozumel turtles

A difficult, but rewarding task.

As you can see from the photo, we dig straight down.

Cozumel turtles

Careful or it’ll collapse and you have to start over!

Once I reach the egg cluster I should be about 3 feet / 1 meter of depth, or roughly past my armpit. So digging out a nest is not easy work reaching all the way down and scooping it out and repeating – and hopefully the nest does not cave-in ensuring you must start from the beginning. For some people it’s best to work in pairs and take turns, especially if you are not comfortable with Caribbean heat and humidity.

Our objective in digging out the nest is to remove the soon to be decomposing egg shells. As they decompose the smell will attract scavengers like wild dogs, birds, and the large reptiles. However they won’t find the egg shells still three feet under sand, but what they will find is all the baby Cozumel turtles coming to the surface. And that’s exactly what we are trying to avoid.

Cozumel turtles

Each empty shell is a baby swimming free!

And right about now it might be dawning on you that this is not a glamorous task. In fact, it can be down right disgusting. Once the egg shells are unearthed the smell will take your breath away. And now you get the pleasure of removing up to 100 of these smelly, rotting egg shells. And sometimes there is heartbreak involved as well. It is not uncommon to come across dead baby turtles which did not make it to the surface.

Cozumel turtles

An unfertilized egg.

Many reasons can thwart their climb. Natural things like tree roots or large rocks can become an impassable obstacle. Man-made items like plastic cups or sandals buried in the sand are a death trap. Or as seen int he photo the egg simply wasn’t fertilized. And any night where heavy rain begins to fall in the evening makes my heart hurt as rain-soaked sand becomes compact and deprived of oxygen and entire nests of baby turtles can suffocate before they can breach the surface.

Cozumel turtles

They have a surprising amount of strength in the flippers from the moment of hatching.

But at other times, you are a hero. When you come across and liberate your first baby turtle all the hard work is forgotten and is replaced by huge smiles.

Cozumel turtles

Note the background red sticks – each a nest ready to soon hatch.

And other times, a hero many times over.

Finally, after a hard day’s work filled with sadness and joy, you get the final reward of watching the baby’s sprint for the water.

 

For more information or to help volunteer please contact Ecologia Cozumel.

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