EcoClub 2: Kids, Turtles and the Race to the Sea

Today we took the kids to Playita for a special Sunday EcoClub. We were planning to excavate three nests, and I thought it would be cool for the kids to see the dead fetuses and the bacteria and fungus inside the unhatched eggs. In fact, the kids got to see so much more!

All three nests erupted with healthy hatchlings as soon as we started digging with our hands.

Excavating the first hawksbill nest by hand.

We began handing the kids baby hawksbills by the handful.

The first baby hawksbill to emerge.

After measuring the first ten hatchlings from each nest, we asked the kids to line up the turtles high on the sandy beach. The kids were eager to plop the baby turtles straight into the water, but we explained how each baby turtle needs to make its own way to the ocean so that in fifty years, when it is ready to make its own nest, it will be able to find this exact beach.

On your mark, get set.... let those turtles GO!

The kids “raced” their turtles and picked favorites, though it was more of a slow-motion struggle than a race. Everyone cheered when a turtle was finally carried away by a high-reaching wave, and moaned when a wave pushed a turtle even farther from the ocean or flipped it onto its back.

It is a long journey for the little turtles. First, they must break out of their eggs and dig through a foot of sand. Normally the turtles hatch at the same time an escape through the collective digging effort, but late-bloomers are often left to die under the weight of the sand.

Once on the surface, the turtles can be dehydrated by the sun or burned to death by the sand. They can be picked off by birds or crabs. They can become disoriented and crawl away from the ocean by mistake. Even when they finally reach the ocean, they are at the mercy or predators and the cold water, and they must find their own food. It's no wonder fewer than 1% of hatchlings make it to sexual maturity.

I got down on my belly in the sand to photograph the journey from this baby turtle's perspective.

From down here, the crashing waves look like tsunamis.

I was a little fretful, trying to keep the kids from stepping on, dropping, or otherwise damaging the little turtles in their excitement. I let one precocious eight-yet-old boy use my camera to photograph the adventure, hoping he would not drop my $400 camera in the waves. Luckily he did not.

A photo taken by a talented (and persistent) EcoClubber.

I hope these kids will remember this afternoon with the baby turtles forever, because it is often a loving memory of nature from childhood that inspires the naturalists and conservationists of the world.