Arribadas of the Olive Ridleys

Nicaragua has had more intense rainstorms this season than any other that anyone can remember. There has been a lot of flooding in the north and central Nicaragua, and the infrastructure which at best of times has shocking roads …have made many areas impossible to reach. Communities of rural people are completely stranded, and trucks and buses have had to be hauled out of the mud and out of rivers which are much fuller and rougher than usual as a result of all the downpour. Many have been displaced and there have been about 60 deaths as a result of the heavy rains.

This weekend, we decide to attempt the roads South of San Jan del Sur, to go and see if the Olive Ridley Turtles have come ashore yet, to lay their eggs. There are only a few places in the world that turtles routinely return to for nest building and egg hatching. One of them is at the Reserve of la Flor which is just north of what we call “our beach”, Ostional. This mass arrival of thousands of turtles over a few months is known as “arribadas.”

We decide its a good idea to do this drive during the daytime.. and just as well, as it turns out to be quite a hair raising trek through the mud and four very mocha colored rivers which flow freely across the road. We are unable to make it all the way to Ostional as the road gets way too treacherous and after hearing stories of some cars being washed part way down rivers, we forego visiting Ostional beach this time. We have found a house to rent for sixty dollars for the night which has a spectacular view over Playa Coco.

After dark we arrive at the reserve with our flashlight painted red, a requirement so as not to disturb the turtles, and make our way from the car through a small dark path to the beach. A few of the park rangers tell us that the night before there were literally thousands of turtles nesting. Tonight there are just a few making their way slowly along the sand from the ocean, then using their back legs to dig a hole about a foot deep in order to lay the eggs. One turtle lays about a hundred eggs. The ranger shines his dim light at the back of the turtle so we can watch as slowly but surely the eggs pop out of the turtle one after the other, like shiny white ping pong balls. Quite an amazing sight to witness. Weeks later the babies will make their way back to the sea, doing their best to avoid predators along the way.

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