Leatherback Turtles

Matura Travel Blog

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Meeting one of the residents!
    This was a special evening. We went to watch the Leatherback Turtles at Matura Bay on the east coast of Trinidad. Until a few years ago these massive creatures used to be hunted by the locals for their meat and their shells, but there is now an organisation called Nature Seekers that employs locals to act as guides and patrol for poachers.
Getting to the nesting beach is an adventure in itself, down a long unmade track past a quarry and then into untouched forest. Already pitch black at 7 o'clock in the evening, the only lights apart from the car's headlights were from the "candle flies" zooming around outside. This would not be a road I would like to take in a small car yet surprisingly plenty of people did.
The popularity of visiting the turtles has shot up recently, and there were over a hundred visitors there this evening. We were split into groups and Dexter, our guide, led us down to the beach first while the others watched the information slideshow.
Although I'd heard how big they were, it's not until you're up close that it actually sinks in. The turtle we saw laying its eggs was over a metre and a half long, and weighed about twice what I do! When they are coming out of the water, they are very sensitive and if they see direct light they will swim away. But once they have dug a nest and start laying their eggs, they essentially lose all senses. So it is possible to turn on lights to take a proper look, and to touch and take photos.
When you touch one you realise where the name comes from - the shell isn't totally hard, but smooth and can flex slightly. This means that they are susceptible to being injured if something falls on them - not a good combination with nesting under coconut trees really!
After she laid all her legs, the guide made us turn off our lights while the turtle painstakingly covered her nest and dug decoys nearby, before crawling back to the sea, exhausted. On the way back up, we were able to see some babies leaving their nest and heading down to the sea. Dexter found one who was having trouble getting out of the nest and lifted it us for us to hold briefly. The flexibility was even more obvious with this one, the shell bending up and down as it breathed.
Overall this was an amazing experience, and much better all round than allowing hunting to continue.
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Meeting one of the residents!
Meeting one of the residents!
photo by: paulmclaughlin