Monday, 29 March 2010

Tobago - Amazing Leatherback Turtles

The egg laying site after departure

Two pictures taken under the red light.

A wonderful Leatherback Turtle.

We knew before travelling that there was a chance that we may see a Giant Leatherback Turtle. As the beach was a known spot for during the egg laying season of March - June.
When the knock at the door came at 2AM nothing could have prepared us for the amazing spectacle we were about to witness.

The leatherback turtle is the largest species of turtle alive today. It can reach a total length of 2.5 m (8.2 ft.) with a weight of 680 kg (1,500 lb.). Unlike other turtles, the leatherback has no visible shell; instead, it has a carapace made up of hundreds of irregular bony plates, covered with a leathery skin.
The Turtles front legs are well developed flippers, proportionally longer than in any other sea turtle, which propel it through the water. It feeds mainly on jellyfish and will travel thousands of miles in search of them.

When we got to the beach a small crowd had already gathered. Thankfully the local Turtle experts were on hand to make sure nobody got too close, or shone any bright lights or used flash photography.
We were allowed to get to within a few feet and one of the 'Experts' shone a red light so we could see clearly. The turtle uses the powerful flippers to build a nest hole of 3 - 4 ft deep to lay her eggs. On average she will lay 60 to 90 eggs in in the sand.
When laying the eggs she will go into a trance like state and must never be disturbed. If upset she will abandon the egg laying process and go back to the sea.
Once all eggs are released she then goes through an elaborate process of covering them and patting down the sand to protect them. As if that is not enough she then digs a decoy hole for further protection. The whole process usually takes about 2 hours before she returns to the sea thoroughly exhausted.
Seven weeks later, when the eggs hatch, the babies rush immediately to the water. The hatchlings average 61 mm long (2.4 in.) and 45.8 g in weight (1.6 oz.).
Another amazing fact is that the surviving hatchlings will always return to the same beach when it is their turn to lay eggs. But the Turtle will not be able to lay eggs until it is at least 25 years old.
Finally the male Leatherback Turtle will never leave the sea!

We were extremely fortunate to witness this amazing spectacle twice during our stay.

Leatherbacks are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

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