Sea Turtels in Panama – Foundation Agua y Tierra

How we became aware of it 🙂

After we created an album on Facebook with pictures from Torio, someone who was a guest at Patricia and Bob’s Airbnb apartment once, contacted us. He told us that the next morning he’d went to the beach to see sea turtles and offered to take us with him. Unfortunately we read that too late, but he sent us a photo of the sign of the foundation which takes care of sea turtles. So I found them at Google Maps and contacted Jacinto (the person in charge) via WhatsApp. The hatched turtles are sent on their journey at 7 in the morning and 18 in the evening.

So we drove to Morillo on Friday morning at 6:30 a.m., which is about 15 minutes away.

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Some facts about sea turtles

  • Sea turtles live in tropical and subtropical waters and only come ashore to lay their eggs. However, they always have to come to the surface to breathe.

  • The females lay their eggs on the same beach they were born. They come ashore and dig holes to lay their eggs. The people of the foundation then collect the eggs and bring them to safety from poachers, dogs and other animals.

  • The ones we’ve accompanied will be back in about 20 years. At least those who will grow old enough. Many will not make it. They will be eaten by predatory fish on their way out to sea. Some will grow big, but end up as by-catch in fishing nets or are hunted specifically for meat and carapace. Although this has been banned since 1988. The greatest threat to all species are humans. There are only a few predatory fish that become dangerous to a full-grown sea turtle, such as large sharks. But the rise in temperatures, targeted hunting and garbage in the oceans, continue to decimate their numbers. 🙁

  • The temperature determines the sex of the young, which are hatched in the sand by the sun. Climate change is therefore increasingly threatening populations. From a temperature above approx. 30 degrees, females are formed, below males. The rise in temperature has thus led to the emergence of too many females.

  • All species are at least vulnerable, most of them critically endangered.

  • Leatherback turtles and the green sea turtle are particularly affected.

  • At this beach section four different show up to lay eggs:

    • The most common is the olive bastard turtle, the photos in this article show freshly hatched turtles of this species. (vulnerable)
    • The green sea turtle, also called soup turtle, because it is considered a delicacy… 🙁 (endangered)
    • The hawksbill turtle, also hunted for its meat and eggs, especially for its shell. (critically endangered)
    • The leatherback turtle is very, very rare here, only a few specimens deposit their eggs here. Threatened by fishing, hunting and garbage in the sea. (critically endangered)
  • Other species are the loggerhead turtle and the wall reef turtle, but these do not occur on this beach. Both are struggling with the same problems as the other species.

The Foundation

Agua y Tierra employs three people who have dedicated their lives to turtles. They live directly on the beach and spend their days and nights there to protect the turtles. They patrol the beach at night so that the turtles can lay their eggs undisturbed. Afterwards they collect them and bring them to a fenced area directly at the house. There they are safe from poachers, dogs, birds and other animals.

They had to do a lot of educational and persuasive work. The locals dug up the eggs to eat them and hunted some turtles. Meanwhile this is no longer happening, the education is getting better and you they noticed that you can live better from tourists than from the eggs. And without the turtles less tourists would come. In general, a lot is changing. Many people just burn their garbage in the garden. But the children are taught at school that this is bad for the environment and the climate.

The foundation has existed for 8 years and receives no state support. The whole thing is financed by donations, but we really don’t know how they do it. There is hardly any advertising and without the reference, we would not have known that it exists. Although it is only a few kilometres away.

Olive ridley sea turtle

The olive bastard turtles belong to the smallest sea turtles. With a length of approx. 70 cm they reach a weight of up to 50 kg. In comparison: The leatherback turtle can reach a length of up to 2.5 m and a weight of 700 kg! They mainly live in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Once they are fully grown, they prefer to live in shallower waters near the coast.

They feed on crabs, shrimps, jellyfish (unfortunately this is often a disaster for them and the other sea turtles as they are confused by plastic bags), sea urchins and other sea animals.

After about 10-20 years, they return to their birthplace for the first time to lay about 100 eggs themselves. Then they repeat this every year. These are incubated in the sand by the sun, and after 45-60 days small turtles hatch, as can be seen on the pictures and in the videos. 🙂

Sadly, very few will make it and most will not live to be that old. Probably only about 1 %,  the rate might be better, depending on the location.

The past

Panama was in the 70-80’s behind Cuba, the second largest exporter of turtles and their shells, which went almost exclusively to Japan. It is believed that meat increases potency and talismans from turtles bring luck. 🙁

Fortunately these times are over, but hundreds of thousands of turtles were caught and killed. It will be a long time before the population recovers if this ever happens in times of tons of waste in the ocean and global warming.

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Some final words

It was a very beautiful, almost sublime experience to see these little turtles waddling into the sea. We were allowed to take them out of the hatchery, count them (there were 37) and then take them to the water. We were very annoyed that we didn’t make it in Costa Rica. All the happier we are that it worked out here now  with the turtles. 🙂 Thankfully, there are people who are committed to their survival!

A video of the beach, there are heavy waves. Apparently it was even relatively “quiet”.

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