July 31, 2013

Sea Turtles at Rosalie Bay

We have been lucky enough to experience so many different things on our now year long adventure of living abroad. We've seen beautiful beaches, a plethora of tropical wildlife, whales in their natural habitat, swam with sea turtles and more. But this past weekend's experience of seeing baby leatherback sea turtles hatch is one of the most amazing things I've ever done.

Rosalie Bay is on the Atlantic side of Dominica. It's about an hour and a half drive from here in Picard. The beach at Rosalie Bay is home to a turtle sanctuary. Three different types of turtles come to nest on the beach every year - the leatherback, hawksbill and green turtles. The leatherback turtles are the first to arrive and start off turtle season in late spring.

Apparently turtle eggs are a real luxury and have come victim to poaching. So the good people at Rosalie have established the sanctuary to protect the turtles, and give them a better chance at survival. They document every turtle that comes to nest, and then help to excavate the nests when ready, allowing for a higher percentage of sea turtles to survive. They even spend the night on the beach during turtle season from April - October.

We booked a night's stay at Rosalie Bay Resort with the Websters hoping we would be lucky enough with our timing to see some hatchlings or an adult turtle come to shore. To see the turtles, you don't have to stay at the resort, but it can be late as the turtles are most active at night. Plus, Rosalie is just gorgeous, so it's always nice to stay and enjoy a quiet getaway.

Sure enough, we had excellent timing! The excavation of a nest started at about 6 p.m. This nest had started hatching a couple nights prior, so what was left were the weaker of the babies. The first thing we noticed was the awful, awful smell. I guess rotten eggs are called that for a reason.

The nest that was excavated. 
The group of turtles had about 7-9 little ones. Since they were later to hatch, they were the ones with the disabilities and/or deformations. That aside, they were still the cutest things.

They were pretty active. Their instinct to make their way to the ocean was incredible to witness.

It's hard to believe these babies can eventually get up to 1,000 pounds in size! Leatherback sea turtles can get very large, and live to over 100 years old. This particular nest was laid back in May. 

There isn't a high percentage of a survival rate. This is one reason why the mother lays so many eggs. For example, this nest had about 75 eggs.

After we all got our fair share of holding time and photos, it was time to put the babies back for a bit so they could get reoriented. After a few minutes, he took them out the beach and set them free. It was incredible watching them race toward the water, knowing where to go by following the light of the moon. They were adamant that we weren't allowed to use flash photography as not to lead the turtles in the wrong path.

Trying to capture the turtle.
Eventually the turtles get swept into the ocean to start their journey. In the years to come, they will come back to this same beach to lay their own eggs.

Such an amazing thing!

Since we stayed the night, we gave the hotel permission to call our room at any time of night in case more turtles arrived. So at about 12:30 a.m. we got the call!

We made our way down to the beach. This was a new nest that started hatching. There were 28 baby leatherback sea turtles!

This second experience was far better than the one earlier in the evening. It was just us four out on the beach with a bright moon and those who worked with resort. These babies were also much stronger than the first ones we saw. 

After taking plenty of pictures with what we could manage in the dim light, we set them free. It was incredible to see how much quicker and stronger they were in making their way to the water than the first group was.

One baby even crawled over my foot with no problem when making its way to the water.

Furthermore, it's incredible that these minutes old turtles can survive the rough, crashing waters of the Atlantic. 

After all the turtles made their way to the ocean, we settled back in our rooms. We spent the next morning lounging in the beautiful pool of Rosalie Bay, then made the long drive back to Picard.

Our wonderful driver took us along two different routes when going to Rosalie and coming back, so we could see different parts of the island. The long drive was a great reminder of how beautiful this country is.

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