It was a very early morning in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, a modern community of resorts and upscale residences. I was up early. It was, after all, my first morning in beautiful Nuevo, away from dreary weather of late December in Indiana. The beach was almost deserted. The old man with gray bushy hair was walking my way, carrying a large half full canvas bag. “A beach bum,” I thought and tried to stay clear, but the bum turned suddenly and crossed the path directly in front of me. It scared me and I was starting to run when I’ve heard him call out: “Lo siento señorita, yo no tenía la intención de asustarlo… ¿Le gustaría ahorrar un poco de las tortugas?” I stopped mid-stride. Saving turtles? Saving them from what? I had no idea they needed saving! I was intrigued.
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The old man’s name was Miguel; he was almost 80 years old and lived in the nearby town of Bucerias. He told me how he walked the beach every night and many mornings for six months every year, collecting turtle eggs, trying to save as many as possible from the perils of the civilization and dangers of both human and animal predators that almost wiped them out from the face of the earth. Only 30-40 years ago, the turtles were still plentiful, but poachers killed these prehistoric creatures for their shells and meat and collected their eggs to sell for a few pennies. The population of turtles who survived 100 million years was completely depleted within two decades. In the bag he carried, Miguel had hundreds of the golf ball size turtle eggs he “saved” that night. I was entranced by the story of turtle demise and survival and I was determined to help.
For the next two weeks Miguel and I had collected several hundreds of eggs almost every night. We followed turtle tracks on the beach to find nests filled with 50-100 eggs. We followed giant turtle “moms” on their way to lay their eggs and scooped the eggs from underneath them. We saved eggs of Olive Ridleys, leatherback turtles and black turtles. Miguel stored them in the containers filled with sand and when the turtles hatched, we would take them to the small secluded beach north of town and release them. We released them at night, to increase their still slim chance of survival. It is very sad, but on average, only 1 out of 100 hatchlings will survive. The female turtles who survive to maturity, return to the exactly same spot they were released at in about 10 years to lay eggs. It was fun to watch the tiny little creatures propelled by some internal force, rushing towards the ocean and imagining them returning several years later.
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