We set out for beach at 6.00 a.m. Just after stepping onto the hard-packed sand of low tide, we heard a warning. A tall Englishman called our attention to a baby turtle crawling toward the sea. I looked at it and exclaimed, “Breakfast!” The Englishman actually cracked a smile. And it was a buffet breakfast: Susan found another tortoise. In all, we found five.
The impulse was to pick them up and carry them to water, but we’re not supposed to interfere. Nature doesn’t need us. For once I restrained an impulse.
The tortoises had crawled out of their nest in soft dry sand beyond the reach of high tide. Like a fat bicycle tire, they left a track of three parallel strands. The tracks wended irresolutely. The power of instinct? Overrated, it seemed. Maybe turtles are hatched craving immersion in saltwater, or maybe the draw of French fries at beachside restaurants exceeds that.
The Englishman, from Nottingham, had lived in Tamarindo 12 years after coming here with an American company. He had never seen turtles on this beach. He had to chuckle about the irony of the construction ban in buffer zones to the turtle sanctuary, which includes Tamarindo. The Costa Rican court recently halted development projects until an environmental review is completed. Light pollution, our Englishman said, messed with the turtles’ brains, so they weren’t nesting on beaches where people are doing karaoke in surf bars as a way of warding off the darkness. Yet, as we were witnesses, turtles had hatched right near half-naked bums sleeping on the beach, which is bordered by houses and restaurants. As big a surprise, according to our Englishman, was the fact that locals hadn’t dug out the eggs and eaten them.
Then he surrendered to fancy. “Imagine a 150-year-old tortoise coming up here to lay eggs,” he said. “Starting a family at such an age!”
Yes, almost as heinous, or stupendous, as octo-mom Nadya Suleman’s accomplishment.
One turtle made a beeline for the water, but a couple of others turned right, then right again, back to their birthplace. Career counselors should have been summoned to the scene. As the sun came up, more and more people arrived at the beach, and unless they paid close attention, they couldn’t have distinguished these turtle hatchlings from stones. We warned away joggers wearing sunglasses and ear buds. Had they only come from Jersey, Lauderdale, The Woodlands, for the sake of variety in a workout? We turtle cops busted their asses. Soon a German couple and a man from New Hampshire helped to guard the straying babies.
Another Brit, from Bristol, wandered up. Nick was fair-haired, in his late-50s, a bit pudgy, and clutched a mass-market paperback. He’s lived here a year. As for our leathery wards, he expressed pessimism. The sun would rise and they would expire before reaching the water. They were stragglers, should’ve started earlier, that’s nature for you. But we teamed up on the joggers while continuing our chat. He said these turtles were unprecedented, and he would be ringing up his friend who edits the Holwer, a monthly news publication. I asked about life in Tamarindo. Nick winced and said it’s a double-edged sword. There’s nothing to do, particularly after dark. He’s never been one for much TV, so he reads a lot. People (foreigners, we took it) tend to drink heavily after sundown.
Finally, a Tico of about 60 , wearing olive and camo, advanced from the sand 150 meters away to the right. He exhibited a turtle that nearly filled his hand. The eye sockets goggled inward, and the forelimbs were an orthopedic overstatement. He went to the water’s edge with this dear little creature and put it in. When he turned back, I said there were several others. Did he think they would the sun would kill them? Indeed, he did, and he scooped up the one that had made the greatest progress. This issued license to the German woman, to the New Hampshire man, to me, to Susan. We scooped up a turtle. Mine, mostly docile, sometimes scraped against my palm. Just chill, I thought. Where would you go? We conveyed our parties to the water. The first inrushing wave turned a couple of them back toward Greenwich Mean Time—but more human assistance was availed.
These six turtles, hours-old, had escaped ransacking by human nest raiders and stomping by blindfolded joggers. Now they were now at sea.
Four were probably devoured by the voracious pelicans that waited seventy-five yards offshore.
Tamarindo News link to court decision: http://tamarindonews.com/Tamarindo_Community_News/315.html
The Howler: http://tamarindobeach.net/thehowler/index.html