Day 27: failing to see turtles laying eggs and 1000:1 survival odds

We have been lucky so far this trip.

Each time we have come into the habitat of a rare or exciting or glamorous creature, we have seen it.

From swimming with turtles and lemon sharks to seeing toucans and sloths, each promise has arrived with the consequent gasps. We have needed help from guides, sure, but each time nature has co-operated with our schedule.

This has created a false sense of how the world works – the girls have come to think that the potential to see X means we will see X.

Until now.

We left the hotel at 7pm to see turtles laying eggs on Camaronal Beach. You have to have a guide and we joined four others in a little minibus. On arrival we had a briefing, mainly about not shining the torches near the turtles eyes. “They are shy and will return to the sea.”

We then went onto the beach. It was cloudy with the half-moon hidden, so almost pitch black, lit up only by the incessant lightning which is a beautiful feature of June in Costa Rica.

We walked up the beach. We walked back. It started spitting. We walked up the beach again. A joke or two, a fight over who carries the torch, more lightning.

No turtles.

The beach is controlled by an official wildlife service, and volunteers spend their nights picking up the eggs that they see a turtle lay in the sand. They put them in cages in a hut so that they incubate and hatch. This is to increase the number of turtles which make it from egg to entering the sea.

The problem is that, left in the sand, their odds are terrible. Of a 1000 eggs which are laid, only one mature turtle will survive. We saw a bit too much evidence of the food chain at work.

Ten’s of turtle eggs which have been dug up and eaten by predators, probably in the previous 24 hours. The red is our torch: it has a red film on the lens to soften the light and avoid scaring the turtles.

We saw no turtles laying eggs but we saw five separate nests recently ravaged by predators, where all the eggs have been eaten. The guide said this was likely to be raccoons, which sit and watch the turtle lay the eggs and dig them all up and eat them once the turtle leaves, as if Christmas has come early.

With ~100 eggs per nest you can see the attraction. A bona fide protein bonanza.

There are now strict fines in place if a human is caught stealing the turtles eggs. They have a reputation as an aphrodisiac, so now the Government is trying to change behaviour; if you are stealing eggs you get a night in prison.

The scene of all the eaten eggs is unsettling. These must be nests that the volunteers missed, plus the guide says ‘the other animals need to eat‘ so perhaps they leave some, wary of messing with the food chain too much.

Back to our walk.

It starts raining with some power. A black, cold, night. The humour goes, the lightning show loses impact. Chins drop and tears arrive. More rain, big XXL tropical rain.

We retreat to the shelter and call it a day at 10pm.

No turtles.

Our guide says “This has happened to me only five times in the past three years” and that’s okay. I focus on the upside of the lightning show and perhaps it is more useful for the girls to realise that animals work to their schedule, not ours.

We depart philosophical and thinking 1000:1 survival odds.

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