Beach Patrol

One of Equilibrio Azul's tasks is to patrol four of the beaches within Machalilla National Park, here on the coast of Ecuador. Every few days a pair of volunteers walks the length of the beach looking for signs of turtle nests. I went on my first patrol to Playa Salango with Barbara.

We were equipped with flip flops, measuring tape, pencil, and my dandy Rite-in-the-Rain notepad.

We found one set of tracks in the sand - they looked kind of of like a tire track from one giant wheel. We crossed them out with an "X" to make sure we wouldn't measure the same nest twice.

Crossed out tire -- I mean turtle -- tracks.

That sandy patch is the nest.

When she's ready to nest, the Mama Turtle swims all the way back to the beach on which she herself hatched. She hawls herself up past the high-tide line and looks around for a suitable nest site. If she doesn't fine one, she heads back to the ocean, but if she finds a spot to her liking, she starts digging through the grass and sand with her clumsy flippers. It takes about an hour for her to dig the chamber, lay the eggs, and refill the hole with sand. Green turtles usually lay fewer than 100 eggs, but hawksbills can lay over 150.

Finding our way back home.

After the patrol, we walked down the coastal highway hoping a passing motorist would take pity and give us a lift home. Eventually one did, after making sure we weren't overly wet or sandy. The panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the tropical scrubland hills made for a spectacular ride!


  1. It is utterly amazing that turtles can find their way back to their birth beaches, in the middle of an OCEAN! Do they go by currents? Smells? (can they smell?) Temperature? Vegetation patterns? Wow.

  2. I asked the same question. It's a process called "natal homing" or "natal philopatry." See One hypothesis is geomagnetic patterns, like birds and whales are thought to use in migration.

    And yes, turtles can smell. On a side note, I was just reading on the Wikipedia page that smell is a major way salmon find their way back to their spawning grounds. And I might be studying salmon physiological ecology (the relationship between an animal's body and its place in the environment) this summer! Cool!


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