We decided to visit several visitor sites in the Galapagos Islands known to have beaches where sea turtles nest. Alhtough this was an amazing trip, our objective was to determine the different species of sea turtles at each site, their mating season and learn more about their habits and how tourists can enjoy this nature show without interrupting the lifecycle of marine turtles.
During our planning phase we pinpointed the islands and most important visitor sites where we could spot sea turtles, both in the water as on the beach. It turns out, sea turtles have nesting sites on most islands of the Galapagos archipelago, we changed our strategy and here is a list of islands where you cannot find sea turtles nesting:
Rabida, Pinzon, Genovesa and Fernandina
This does not mean you cannot spot sea turtles while snorkeling off the beaches of these islands, as the Galapagos sea turtle migrates all over the world, you will find them feeding of all the islands in the Galapagos and it is possible to swim alongside these gentle prehistoric looking creatures.
The main nesting sites for Galapagos Green turtles are:- Quinta Playa and Bahia Barahona (Southern Isabela Island) - these are not park visitor sites - Las Salinas (Baltra island) - this is not a park visitor site - Las Bachas Beach (Santa Cruz island) - this is a park visitor site - Espumilla Beach (Santiago Island) - this is a park visitor site
We put our investigation into practice and we made sure our cruise itinerary included at least Bachas and Espumilla beaches. In selecting a yacht that covered these visitor sites in their itineraries we found the Galapagos Seaman Journey offered these 2 sites as part of an 8 day itinerary that covers the western islands of the archipelago: http://latintrails.com/itinerary-c-seaman-journey-galapagos/
To our surprise we would soon realize that spotting sea turtles in these amazing islands is easier than we imagined. While snorkeling we swam together with sea turtles at several sites and enjoyed watching them feed on algae, passively swim right by and even rest on the ocean floor as we snorkeled above them. We also had the opportunity to see baby sea turtles hatching at Bachas beach off the northern part of Santa Cruz island. Truly amazing animals, all we could do is stare at them in awe grateful for the opportunity to be so close.
By far the most common marine turtle found in the Galapagos islands is an edemic subspecies of the Pacific Green turtle, it is also the only turtle that breeds and nests in the Islands. As we mentioned above, sea turtles return every year to lay their eggs at the same beach on which they were born. Therefore the Galapagos marine turtle subspecies is also endemic to each island, for example: Espumilla beach sea turtles are only born on this beach at the western side of Santiago island. Other species of of turtles are found around the islands, usually in shallow lagoons and in open seas in between islands.
The Green Turtle has a dark green to black shell, sometimes it can have a yellow color to it. This species is mainly a herbivore. It´s mating season spans from November to December, and takes place in the water. You can easily spot mating couples bobbing off the shores of different islands. The male is smaller than the female, this can be compared during breeding as the male clings to the females back, while a competing male waits for his turn. The females lay their eggs between December and June, they dig holes in the sand at night and lay between 50 to 80 eggs at a time, they are left to incubate for 60 days. Sex of hatchlings is determined by temperature, 30 degrees C or more they will mainly be females, temperatures below 30 degrees C are likely to hatch males.
Once they hatch they are vulnerable to crabs, birds, sharks and almost every other creature that lives on the Galapagos shores. Frigate birds circle above and fly down to grab them with an amazing precision, to avoid being flown on to they prefer to hatch at night. It was a priviledge for us to watch a baby turtle make its way to the ocean unharmed at the end of our day just before the sunset.