The leatherback sea turtle is the largest living sea turtle in the world. The average adult weighs 500 to 1600 pounds. When nesting, leatherbacks will not enter an area where lights or noise of any kind exist. Therefore, nesting grounds are very rare. In the Caribbean, there are only three prime places where the endangered leatherback turtles nest, and Culebra, Puerto Rico is fortunate to be one of them. Culebra has two beaches that provide a dark, quiet, and safe place for leatherback turtles – Resaca and Brava beaches. Both beaches are within the wildlife refuge area.
The main turtle watch time is from April to early June. The Department of Natural Resources in Culebra, Puerto Rico uses volunteers to assist in identifying and helping the turtles. Volunteers meet at sunset and spend the night on the beach taking turns watching for turtles.
Imagine helping an adult turtle lay her eggs! The fun begins when a turtle is spotted. Volunteers must stay at a distance until the turtle has prepared her nest. She puts on quite a show while she is digging. When the nest is complete and the turtle is ready to lay eggs, she goes into a hypnotic trance. At that time, the volunteers can gather around the turtle to observe her laying eggs. One lucky volunteer gets to hold the turtle’s back flipper so the eggs can be clearly seen dropping into the nest. One volunteer counts the big fertile eggs, while another counts the small infertile eggs. The turtle is measured and the event is documented before the turtle returns to the ocean. The return is quite impressive. The adult throws sand into the air to cover up her tracks to the nest, as she returns to the sea.
My friend put the experience into words when she exclaimed, “I feel like I’m in a National Geographic magazine.” The turtle watch is truly an incredible experience. Endangered Species Classroom.