Thursday, July 30, 2009

Return to Tortuguero Personal Account

I first met Archie Carr when I was a freelance reporter living in Kingston, Jamaica. I noticed a story that he was conducting an experiment with loggerhead turtles -taking three of them from the west coast of Florida, trucking them to the east coast to see if they would make their way back to the east coast around the south end of Florida. I went to Gainesville and accompanied Archie and his grad students (and two of his own children). Balloons were attached to the shells of the turtles but the experiment, unfortunately was not successful. The turtles sounded and didn't go anywhere. I had hoped to get a story for TimeLife and/or NBC News. No story but Archie then invited me to join the Brotherhood in San Jose.

I arrived in San Jose, accompanied by an attractive young lady from Chicago, Liz Sears. She was the girlfriend of a friend of mine. She had learned of the Brotherhood, phoned Archie and he invited her to join the group.

At San Jose, I joined with the group that went by train from San Jose to Puerto Limon. At Limon, along with Mrs. Phipps, I went to the small zoo, and then to the Central Park to look up at the tall tree to see the two-toed sloths, hanging lazily in the top branches.

Arriving by the chartered Cessna, we walked to the camp (one shack) where the excellent cook, Sibella, had a lunch fixed for us. We then went to the beach where a number of turtles were "belly up." They had been flipped the night before after they had made their nests, laid their ping-pong ball sized eggs, and then covered their nests. Archie's grad students had marked the nests nests and then flipped them so they could be measured in daylight. After they were measured and tagged, they were "righted" and made their way to the sea. The eggs, meanwhile, were scooped up and transferred to new nests protected by wire enclosures.

Of course, one had to be initiated into the Brotherhood - swallowing a raw turtle egg. I have pictures of my own initiation which I will include when I figure out how to include pictures on this blog. (I am still in the instruction stage.)

I have recorded in my book, "Freelancing in Paradise" that we had fried turtle eggs for breakfast each morning. Also, before they were released, red balloons were attached to their shells with fishing line. Archie had hoped to follow their migration paths. also, the turtles were so large that we have pictures of some of the smaller guests riding them down to the shoreline.

Two months later, Archie alerted me that the hatchlings would be popping out of the nests and I flew to Tortuguero and filmed the little wigglers making their way to the sea. Thus, for me, it was a very successful, and profitable, story. I had been able to film at night, the arrival of the turtles as they emerged from the sea, labored like small tanks to their nests, filmed the actual laying eggs (once the turtle begins laying, nothing disturbs her) and the covering of the nests. And in the morning the measuring and attaching of the tags. I was able to film the complete story which was shown on the Today Show, then hosted by Dave Garroway.

That was THEN. Now - 50 years later - the experiments continue, but what a difference 50 years makes...

When I contacted the CCC (Caribbean Conservation Corporation) at Gainesville, David Godfrey, the Executive Director, to ask if there would be any observances, he advised me that a 50th anniversary gala was planned for later in the year in New York. He also advised that the CCC planned to deploy transmitters on two turtles at Tortuguero and invited me to come and watch the experiment.

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