Adventures in Sea Turtle Rescue
The Circle of Life
About 20 minutes from Leon, Nicaragua there sits an isolated island known as Isla Los Brasiles. It is here that Pedro Mejia, founder of Summit Adventures Nicaragua, witnessed sea turtles swim up to shore to lay their eggs for the first time.
The experience left him profoundly touched. In a rare moment of utter perfection -- and with only the stars to light the way -- Pedro watched as hundreds of sea turtles appeared on the shore. They made their way slowly inland and began their final labor as mothers, digging deeply into the sand to lay their precious cargo far from the reach of predators... or so they thought.
The circle of life had begun anew, and as soon as those who gave life crawled back into the sea, those who would take it emerged from the treeline. The poachers combed the beach looking for each turtle's nest, and when they found one, they bugged a hole and removed the eggs. The eggs were later sold to local markets, where some Nicaraguans would purchase and bring them home to make their favorite delicacy: turtle soup.
The Birth of a Turtle Hatchery
He couldn’t just sit and let this happen, so Pedro took it upon himself to meet with the poachers and discuss the bugging of these nests. He was lucky: they agreed to speak to him. Not about to let this opportunity for mutual understanding and social change pass him by, he listened intently to what each person had to say.
He learned that the men and women who waited silently in the shadows for the sea turtles to lay their eggs and return to the sea were not the malicious poachers of popular culture. They sold the eggs to make enough money to buy rice and beans to feed their family. They didn't laugh manaically as they mounted turtle heads above the fireplace; they were people humbled by poverty who were just looking to make ends meet.
It was here where a lightbulb went off in Pedro’s head. “How about we buy the turtle eggs from you at the same price you sell them at the market,” he said, “then we’ll take the eggs and put them in a turtle hatchery."
The locals seemed to like this idea, so Pedro set off to make it happen. He enlisted the help of local university students to build a turtle hatchery on the island and teach the local poachers how to correctly handle turtle eggs using gloves, red lights, and other techniques. The local men and women took to the lessons like, well, like a sea turtle to water! Pedro's carefully considered plan was a huge success and the turtle hatchery was well on its way to changing the lives of both the locals and the sea turtles who shared the tiny island.
From Hunters to Heroes
There are five species of turtles that lay eggs on the shores of Nicaragua’s Pacific Ocean, the most common one being the Olive Riddley turtle, whose eggs hatch 45 days after they are layed. This was the perfect timeline, so the next time the turtles came ashore, Pedro and the locals involved in the project used wooden sticks to mark the number of eggs in the nest and the date on which they were layed. When the 45 day mark hit, Pedro invited the now ex-poachers back to the beach along with their children.
“Daddy, daddy, you helped do this?” they would ask their dads. “Si, si!” answered the proud father who was now looked upon as a hero by his child.
When the children saw the baby turtles come out of the sand and crawl into the ocean, they were thrilled. “Daddy, daddy, you helped do this?” they asked their dads. “Si, si!” answered the proud fathers who were now looked upon as a heroes by their children.
It was the happiest ending anyone could ask for. And now, five years later, the turtle hatchery still exists and has since seen thousands of baby turtles born and returned to the sea.