Suriname, 20th day, green turtles


This is a video about a green turtle feeding from Hawaii.

Green turtles swim not only near Hawaii and Bonaire.

Suriname, 22 February.

We slept in Baboensanti.

Until 1:00. Then, we got up to look for sea turtles.

A Native American warden guides us, pocket-torch in hand. Careful: don’t shine light into turtles’ eyes, as they hate that and might break off the egg laying process.

From Atlantic Ocean back to the ocean, it takes about two hours for a turtle. First, getting out of the water. Then, getting up the beach; which is rather steep at Baboensanti. Also, difficult for big animals which spend all of their lives in the sea. With as only exceptions for the females, the egg-laying, maybe three times per laying season occurring once in two to five years. The males hardly ever get out of the water after hatching as babies; with extremely rare exceptions.

After getting up the beach, the female turtles have to decide where to lay their eggs. The further above the floodline, the safer the eggs are from drowning in the sea. However, when the young turtles will hatch, they will then have a longer and more dangerous journey to the water.

The biggest species, leatherback turtles, do the shortest distance in crawling (because they are heaviest? because they are most adapted to the ocean, and least to land??). Usually, they make their nests about two meter above the flood line. Some lay their eggs ever lower down. Wardens dig up these eggs in dangerous places, and transfer them to safer new nests, higher up the beach.

This is a video of a leatherback turtle laying eggs on the beach in Galibi, Suriname.

Leatherbacks eat jellyfish. Unfortunately, plastic floating in the sea looks like jellyfish. One third of all leatherback turtle deaths is linked to plastic.

There is research on Surinamese leatherbacks, including PIT-tagging. Leatherback turtles tagged – For a race and research: see here.

Over half of all leatherback turtle eggs in the world are from the three Guyanas: Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.

A Surinamese biologist says: “There used to be a marine turtle hatchery in Suriname, with artificial incubators for the eggs; and a chance for the babies to grow to a size where fewer enemies might attack them before releasing them into the sea. This helped the survival rate of those rare animals. Unfortunately, the government of Suriname closed this down because of short-term money issues”.

The two smallest species, both rare at Baboensanti, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles, crawl up the beach until they reach the vegetation line, to make their nests there.

The green turtle is the second biggest and second heaviest of the marine turtles. They can get over 1.3 meter long and over 300 kilograms. They are unique: it is said that they don’t eat jellyfish and other meat like other sea turtles (however, see also here). As vegetarians, they eat seaweed. Which gives their fat the green colour of their name.

Usually, there are about 5,000 green turtle nests a year in Suriname.

When green turtles crawl up the beach, they go the longest distance of all turtles. They cross the vegetation line and sometimes make their nests beyond the tops of the sand dunes.

First, they then make big holes for their bodies to fit in. Then, they use their flippers to dig a smaller, deep hole for the eggs. Then, they lay about a hundred, hundred thirty, eggs in the hole. Then, they cover the nest hole by throwing sand on it with their flippers. Then, they camouflage the nest hole. Then, they go back to the flood line, and swim back to their mates which may wait for them. As I wrote, about two hours from ocean to ocean.

There is no fixed direction for laying eggs: some turtles lay eggs with their heads to the ocean; some with their heads to the land; and some with their bodies parallel to the coastline.

The first green turtle of tonight is very big. It is making a hole, but it has not started laying yet.

The second turtle is a bit smaller, so probably younger (most reptiles keep growing their whole lives). It has just finished covering the nest. It heads back to the floodline, and swims away.

The third turtle is laying eggs. They are somewhat similar in size and look to table tennis balls, except for the eggs’ beautiful shine.

Apart from these three animals, we see more green turtle tracks, over a meter in breadth, going up to the dunes.

Later, we hear that a jaguar ate three green turtles.

Natural beaches produce more hatchling marine turtles than developed beaches, despite regional differences in hatching success: here.

An international team of scientists has identified a nesting population of leatherback sea turtles in Gabon, West Africa as the world’s largest: here.

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