Sunday, May 19, 2013

Paria Paradise: A Leatherback Love Story

Perhaps I am the luckiest woman in the world to have seen this amazing nesting ritual and these endangered leatherback sea turtles! On a weekend camping trip to Paria Bay, we were not aware that this beach would become teeming with turtles in the middle of the night. The leatherback sea turtles are an endangered species, making their nesting period a particularly important time. Trinidad and Tobago, for being a small country, has a relatively high number of leatherback turtles nesting on its beaches. Generally, the turtles are known to nest on the Atlantic side (the East coast), but on this particular weekend several turtles wandered into Paria Bay, a beach closer to the North coast with a mix of Atlantic and Caribbean waters. 
Imagine our surprise, as we sat around a camp fire and sang to the strumming of a guitar, when we saw a boulder drift onto the shore and slowly begin to move towards the drier sand. We sat in awe as the Trinidadian locals explained the process of leatherback sea turtle nesting. These creatures, weighing somewhere around two tons and counting, climb out of the water and slowly (slowly) but surely slide their way onto the dry sand away from the lapping waves. Once they are content with their chosen spot, they begin to wave their flippers in seeming disarray, digging a five foot hole in which to lay their eggs. Once the hole has been created, the turtle positions itself over and begins to lay somewhere near 100-120 eggs. At this time, she goes into what is best described as a trance, with a layer of 'tears' covering her eyes and making her unaware of her surroundings. The eggs are shiny, appear slimy, and look like large golf balls piled atop one another. 

After laying her eggs, she spins wildly on her belly (a breakdancer in the making) and moves her flippers until the eggs are effectively protected by the sand. Although she lays over 100 eggs, usually the majority of them will die before the hatchlings even make it to the ocean. 

For hours, I sat cross-legged in the sand, watching these magnificent creatures make their way to shore and begin nesting beneath the moon. 
Paria Waterfall

The famous natural arch in Paria

A glowing campfire

Waking up to an incredible sight

My Milner Hall compatriots 
Thank You, Beautiful Paria! 

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