Friday, December 28, 2007

Turtle No. 21

After sleeping off our night walk, we had a lunch of rice, beans and pickled vegetables prepared by a local mother-daughter team. Then Chau and I built nests for the hatchery. These consist of sheets of chicken wire sown into cylinders with plastic fly line, then draped over one end with wire netting. The nests are placed over man-made turtle nests to keep out birds and other animals.

My elaborate stitching won me the award for most perfectionistic. Even on vacation I couldn't help but undertake my responsibilities with utmost seriousness. It took me three times as long as Chau to finish my nests. Afterward, he and I used silvery paint to cover the metal grates on the windows and doors of the project site. Then a group of us went to the hatchery to dig holes and check on the turtle eggs, a responsibility each group undertook every few hours.

No change. For several hours we read and played cards. Then someone ran back from the hatchery: a group of baby olive ridleys had been born.

We rushed to the hatchery, where the turtles clambered over each other in an effort to flee the nest. They looked like a cuter version of squirming earthworms. We donned plastic gloves to protect us and the ridleys from species-specific germs, and each person took turns counting out five turtles and putting them in a plastic bucket. I picked up Turtle No. 21 between my thumb and forefinger as he flailed. He measured about 2 centimeters but felt strong.

We continued in this fashion until we got to Turtle No. 102. As we gathered our things to treck to the ocean, Tammy and Roxanna noticed a tiny squirming head deep in the sand. I plucked Turtle No. 103 from his coocoon, and we headed for the beach.

Our entire GAP Adventures group joined us, as did seven newcomers from Great Britain. We stood about 20 feet from the water. Tammy tipped over the plastic pail holding the turtles, and they began their journey to the sea. Over the next 15 minutes, in a light, refreshing rain, we watched them flop over the sand, making light tracks in their wait. They approached the water one by one, and as the tide came in, it gently swept them away.


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