Exploring Panama: The Turtles of Isla Canas

On this world there are 7 species of sea turtles and every year 5 of those come ashore at Isla Cañas, a peninsula/island in the south of panama.

The island itself does not have much to offer, there is nearly any wifi, only one restaurant which offers two meals which are cooked in the hosts own kitchen and a supermarket which consists of bread, sanitary products and crisps. All in all, not the perfect vacation destination, but once a year for a few month turtles from all over the world come here to nest. The island is only accessible by boat which brings you through the narrow streets of a mangrove forest.

On the first night on the island we were overcome by a tropical storm and stayed in but on the second evening we decided to go out and explore. Everyone wanting to see the turtles has to hire a guide and soon a boy, still in high school, trotted onto our front lawn on a horse and a very simple carriage. We climbed on top made our way through the small village.

Once we left the main road and turned onto a path by the beach it was as if the whole universe had opened up and we marveled at the millions of stars that could be seen and even the light dusk of the milky way that stretched across the night sky. After 15 minutes we got to our destination and met with our guide. The man and his sons work together on the island, showing around tourists and at the same time caring for the eggs and every turtle should it be necessary.

We were told that an olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) had just arrived and was currently making a whole further up the beach. We waited for a bit before disturbing the turtle before approaching her. (We could not take any good pictures in the dark but this would be her)

Then we watched her lay her eggs, this kind of turtle lays up to 100 eggs at a time. The guide told us that olive ridleys only nest every two years but that they do so 5 to 7 times, which would bring us to a whole 500-700 eggs every two years.

It was fascinating to see such a phenomenon up close and once all the eggs were laid the mother covered than with sand and then danced on it until it was compressed and well hidden to give the little turtles the best possible chance.

Then we just watched her retread to the ocean and I was surprised at how quickly she did so. No slow turtle heaving on the sands, instead the used strong muscles to get back to the sea as fast as possible.


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