Leatherback Turtle Nesting Season Begins and San Pancho News

Frank Smith - Ecological Group of Costa Verde
March 2, 2021


Hola Volunteers and Supporters ~

From May through February, we recorded a total of over 1,100 nests, which we now estimate will produce up to 100,000 hatchlings. Total number of hatchlings released by our program since 1992 reached a total of 1,405,301. The big news is that we have one Leatherback turtle nest that is scheduled to hatch within the next 30 days!

The amazing Leatherback turtle’s nesting season begins on March 20th and continues to November 20th. Pacific Leatherback turtles are Critically Endangered, with fewer than 2,300 adults remaining according to the World Wildlife Foundation. They can weigh over 1000 pounds and are the largest marine turtle in the world. Click here to see a video of a Leatherback nesting, from our Facebook page. This post includes a picture of our first Leatherback hatchlings. You can learn more about Leatherback turtles here.

If you find a Leatherback nesting, there are three things that you can do to help:

1. Disguise her tracks and nest site as much as possible by brushing the sand flat with a dry palm tree branch or your hands.

2. Notify Project Tortuga by phone 311 258 4100 or email grupo-eco@project-tortuga.org. Or you can notify Maria Palma of Semarnat of the location and date by email at maria.palma@semarnat.gob.mx

3. Whatever you do, do not dig up the nest!

Here’s why it is critical to not touch a Leatherback nest. It takes nearly six hours of exhausting work for a Leatherback to finish tamping a protective layer over the nest with three feet of wet sand, using nearly 2,000 pounds of pressure. This tamping will make it possible to conduct the sun’s heat quickly and efficiently through the sand. The dense layer of compact sand also makes it exceedingly difficult for parasites and predators to find the nest. If humans dig the nest up, they will cause the sand to dry and soften, which will keep heat from reaching the nest and allow predators to easily burrow down to the eggs. Digging into a Leatherback’s nest destroys her work and possibly the nest as well.

Many thanks to our wonderful February volunteers; Manuel Murrieta, Karen Sorum, Hallie Loveridge, Juan Flores and family, and Esteban Millard. In mid-March Gale and Lorren will be returning after a two-year unplanned absence, and Katie Grant will be joining us well.

If you know someone who is interested in volunteering, please refer them to our Volunteer page. Since 1992, we have accumulated a total of 1,072 volunteer-months of dedicated help from nearly 170 outstanding volunteers.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic we could not host about 75% of the volunteers that had previously planned to join us. We received only 9 volunteers over the entire 2020 season. If the lack of volunteers and the drama of the pandemic was not enough, 2020 also turned out to be our fourth largest season in 28 years.

To ensure the safety of our volunteers and protect the public from Covid-19 infection, last season we had to make several major changes to prevent people from interacting closely together. For example, we did not use our box or beach nurseries, and we did not allow any public hatchling releases. Instead, we relocated most nests to higher locations on the north end of the beach, away from preternatural high waves. This radically reduced person-to-person exposure, and slashed our workload by nearly 60%,

Normally in August, nests generally hatch within 42 to 45 days, and their survival rate is 1 hatchling out of 650 that will return as an adult in eleven to sixteen years. But winter (December through March) nests may take 60 to 90 days to incubate due to the extremely cold sand. A winter hatchling’s chance of surviving to return as an adult are on 1 in 4,000. Unfortunately, the extra days trapped under the cold sand uses up the energy in their yoke sack and weakens them to the point that if they are lucky enough to reach the surface and get out to the sea, the frigid ocean temperature may stun them.

Weather-wise, daytime temperatures in February were in the low to mid-70°s while nighttime temperatures were in the low to mid to low 60°s. We have not yet received any rain this year.

Our recent Donors include: Jack and Franny Bischof, Gale Greer, Jennifer Nelsen, Evelyne Boren, Jonathan Kingson, Karen Hope, Danile Brookins, and Susan Butler. We are very thankful to receive your contributions! Without your help we would not be able to do our work. If you wish to help us go our website's via Paypal link.

Frank Smith, Director
Grupo Ecológico de la Costa Verde, A.C.
Email: grupo-eco@project-tortuga.org
Website: Project Tortuga
Facebook page: San Pancho Marine Turtle Project
Tel. 311-258-4100

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