Shortly after we moved to Salinas Grandes we were walking on the beach and spotted a huge sea turtle. Our whole family was stoked and gathered to watch the turtle make her way back to the water’s edge and be swept away by the waves. As we returned to our house, we saw a man digging in the nest the mother turtle had just left. He was digging up the eggs. We were outraged and tried to ask him some questions in our broken Spanish. We had heard that the eggs were a local delicacy, but this man said he was digging the eggs up sell to a local turtle nursery. We walked away shaking our heads with a new passion to investigate how our community handles the arrival of these beautiful turtle mothers.
We began to ask around and learned that Salinas Grandes, Nicaragua is a nesting ground for thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles. Every year from August to November, turtle mothers return to the beaches of Salinas Grandes to lay their eggs in a massive event called an “Arribada”, meaning arrival.
These mothers bury their eggs in the sand and return back to the sea. In the ideal case, their eggs would hatch 45-50 days later. However, in Salinas Grandes, the survival rate of sea turtle eggs is nearly zero. Unfortunately, sea turtle eggs have become a key source income for the locals trying to survive in a struggling economy. During this season people search the beach all night for nesting turtles in hopes of providing income for their families. After the mothers lay their eggs and return to the ocean locals gather up the eggs to sell at the market. Selling the eggs from one nest could provide the same income as fishing every night for a whole week. If person is unable to find a buyer, the eggs would be as a source of protein.
We were relived to find out that our new friend Scott was addressing the problem of stealing eggs by purchasing eggs for slightly above market price. He had created a turtle nursery that had been steadily growing for several years. The purchased eggs were placed in a protected nest and cared for until they hatched. The baby turtles were then returned to the ocean. In 2018 Scott and his crew at the Tortuga Vivero (several kilometers down the beach) helped over 14,000 baby turtles hatch and swim into the sea. But there is more work to be done. Plenty of turtles come ashore close to our home and we want to give them a better chance at survival.
Sea turtles, besides being adorable, contribute to the health of the ocean ecosystem as a whole. Jellyfish are arguably taking over the ocean due to a lack of predators. Too many jellyfish in an ecosystem can have devastating effects: they can impact the amount of fish caught by fisherman and make the waters unsafe to swim in. If this happens to the waters of Salinas Grandes, the economy could potentially be ruined because of its dependency on the revenues from fishing and tourism. Luckily, jellyfish are among a sea turtle’s favorite snacks. It is important that sea turtle populations be protected, and we are ready to do something about it.
We have joined forces with our friend Jace Marquardt (a marine biology student from Washington) and Conservation Made Simple to form the Turtle Tribe. Turtle Tribe’s goal is to purchase the eggs from the locals before they are sold to the market or eaten. We’ll replicate the natural nest by placing the eggs in burlap sacks filled with tide-washed sand. Purchasing of the eggs will happen at night by our local employee who will record the number of eggs, carefully place them in a new nest, and guard the area. The sanctuary will be secure from predators and covered by shade cloth to prevent the nests from overheating. In order to make sure that we are not just telling people that hurting sea turtles is bad, we will be working closely with the La Tribu Radiante to educate the local community on why sea turtles are important and why they need protected.