Thursday, September 25, 2008


Last weekend we visited San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast. In August we`d stood on the coast of both oceans, and here we were back on the Pacific coast again.

A small beach north of the town of San Juan del Sur

Playing in the waves!

We had a great time on the beach and had a unique opportunity to watch sea turtles nesting.

The Olive Ridley turtle is an endangered species but is starting to make a come back thanks in part to the protection it is getting in Nicaragua. The turtles grow to about 1.2m long and can live up to 100 years. Only one in 1,000 eggs laid make it to adulthood due to natural predators alone. The turtles lay their eggs in a nest on the beach above the high tide line and return to the same beach where they were born. They lay about 100 eggs at a time. The turtles, for reasons unknown, arrive on the beach around the same time. One of the main nesting sites is the La Flor Reserve in Nicaragua. At this reserve there can be up to 3,000 turtles nesting in an evening and they get over 150,000 turtles per year. In the past the turtles` chances of survival were much less than 1:1,000 as eggs and turtles were harvested by local people for food and for sale. Even when the practice was made criminal there was little or no enforcement of the rules.

After hearing a presentation on sea turtles, and the rules we had to follow at the reserve, we started out with about 12 other people. We left at about 8:30PM and it was very dark already. The 20km ride took about 1hour over a very bumpy road.

At the reserve we could not use flashlights as they could blind the turtles. The guides each had one flashlight with a dim red light and this led us along the path. Immediately when we got to the beach we saw a turtle coming out of the water and found another one nesting. The turtles dig a hole about a 40cm deep with their back flippers and lay their eggs in the hole. Our guide dug a small hole behind the turtle that opened up the hole made by the turtle so that we could see the eggs dropping into the nest. They looked like rubbery golf balls and just kept coming. When the turtle is done she fills the hole in, and then compacts it with her flippers and rocks back and forth over the hole. She then tries to hide the nest by spreading sand over it. She then returns to the sea. We got to see three turtles nesting/laying their eggs and there were many others coming and going up and down the beach. This was not one of the mass nesting events but it was expected to be any day and we were very lucky to be present near the date.

We were allowed pictures only from right behind the turtle so this is the only one we could get. Google Olive Ridley turtles for other pictures and to learn more.

Turtle eggs dropping into the nest shown with red light

During our 1.5 hours on the beach there was little light due to the restrictions on white light and the limited use of the red light so that the turtles were not scared off. We had a few things to help us out however. Amazingly enough the guards wandering about have regular white flashlights as they can`t afford red lights. Also the waves were glowing full of fluorescent plankton, and there was lightning regularly flashing the beach. The rain held off until we got back to the truck but the rain did not help our journey back. We had a hair-raising 2 hour return drive (which Danielle slept through).

P.S. (Pam says….): We spent almost the entire day by the water and it was impossible to not be struck by the power of the waves and the tide. Playing in the waves is better than any water-park. To body surf on the waves, and just feel the power of the water pushing you in toward the shore is like flying. I love it! As the tide slowly moved in over the day, and then quickly late in the afternoon, we had to keep moving our towels and backpacks away from the water. At the end of the day the kids continued to play in the small waves that covered where we had been sitting. We literally had to drag them out of the water when the truck came to take us back to San Juan del Sur. The tide changed the entire landscape of the beach. We stood in awe of its beauty all over again. And then we were in awe again as we stood on the banks of another beach watching the tide bring in these amazing creatures who had returned to the exact beach where they were born to lay their eggs years and years later.

Staying by the water, John and I often experience the pull of the tide drawing us to one day find a house by the sea. Where will that be?


  1. What a wonderful and amazing experience!

  2. Great story Pam! I love the egg picture with the red light!

  3. What an amazing day!!! How many people can say they saw turtles come ashore and nest eggs??? Very cool...