I recently had one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I spent the Saturday night patrolling the protected zone of San Diego beach with los tortugueros (the turtle-watchers). Between the months of May and October the most abundent sea turtle in the world ‘the olive ridley turtle’or golfina, comes ashore in El Salvador to nest and leave the next generation of turtles in the form of little ping-pong ball shaped eggs of surprising softness and density. As we lay on the sand close to the hard dome of young 20yr old golfino female, we watched in awe as she deposited 48 eggs in clusters of three into the vertical hole she had dug with her hind flippers. Using only red-light torches, which are thought not to disturb the turtles, we witnessed the ritual of of the female ‘whumping’ the sand flat and swishing sand over the nest to disguise it from predators. The mother turtle cried tears of deep emotions we could only wonder at, and I felt strangely blessed when this gentle creature slapped me on the arm with it’s flipper and then showered my face with sand. We followed her down to the sea and watched her disappear into the black night. Afterwards we dug up her 48 eggs, fired slingshots at marauding dogs who tried to steal a free meal and transported them to a safe hatchery.
Every night until the end of this month the 300m stretch of protected sand is protected by teams of 5 tortugeros, all night, every night. The population of golfinas worldwide has thought to have dropped to 50% of the numbers in the 1960s. These men and women of El Salvador are on the front lines of the battle to preserve the unique natural wonders that exist in El Salvador and those that we share with our neighbouring countries. I asked one of the tortugueros what he loved the most about doing this work.
“the baule, when they come are nearly 2m long. I have seen one only once, they are the most beautiful thing I have seen.” the man replied. The ‘baule’ or leatherback turtles are less frequent visitors to the shores of El Salvador, and I found myself envying this experience. Well I have seen one turtle. There are three more species to see. How many of you know their names?