Medio Ambiente starts turtles protection season

Nesting on Cosón beach, in Las Terrenas

A team of experts from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources began monitoring sea turtle nesting of the species Dermochelys coriacea Leatherback on several beaches in the country, since in this season the turtles in the reproductive age return to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs.

Currently, at this time of the year 2013 turtle nests were reported in the beaches of Cosón, Las Terrenas, Playa El Valle, Samana, La Playa Vacama, Higuey, Playa Cabarete, Puerto Plata Playa, Saona Island and Playa San Luis – Mosquea in Oviedo.

Before the beginning of the season, the Ministry of the Environment implements a plan of conservation and protection of these nests in coordination with the various entities of the surrounding communities and the Provincial Directorates. The leatherback turtle has been classified as endangered throughout its geographical distribution since 1970. It was also included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and is protected by Presidential Decree No. 288-12.

The specialists of the Ministry of Environment are asking the public to communicate with the Vice Minister of Marine and Coastal Resources, if they observe the nests or traces of them, in order to ensure that they may receive the necessary protection.

The leatherback is the largest of all sea turtles, it may reach a length of two meters and weigh over 1000 pounds. This species has unique characteristics that distinguish it from other sea turtles: its size, long front flippers, a shell that is not hard, and the fact of owning a specialized beak to eat jellyfish.

The leatherback females prefer to nest on sandy beaches, with an intense magnetic field. The Earth’s magnetic field and its variations, the direction of the waves, the chemistry of the sand and water, are probably some of the factors responsible for the process of imprinting which suggests to the turtles the path to take to reach the selected beach; a real internal geographical map. The influence of the moon phases and tides on the timing of nesting is curious: generally the turtles seem to leave the water just before the moon raise, if it is increasing, or shortly after the disappearance of the moon, if it is flat.

The force of the waves is used to push the heavy body through the sand and to hide the nest which they build by digging a hole three feet deep. In the nest are deposed between 100 and 150 eggs, which hatch after 60-70 days.

The baby turtles break the shell with a small bump on the beak called ‘egg tooth’ and emerge from the nest taking immediately the sea route. They orient themselves following the sun ligth and heading east. Newborns are particularly vulnerable and prone to many dangers: the artificial lights can disorient them and predators are manifold.

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