It is May and the Leatherback turtles are nesting again on Bluff Beach not far from Bocas town. The turtles will continue to build their nests and lay their eggs through August.
Leatherback turtles can live for more than 150 years and grow to weigh more than a ton. These magnificent turtles are have been around for more than a million years but now are endangered. Many of the turtles have died from eating plastic, which looks like the turtles favorite food jellyfish when floating in the water or have drowned when entangled in fishing lines and nets.
When a female turtle is sexually mature, around 7 or 8 years old she will return to the beach of her birth to make a nest and lay her own eggs. The female turtles dig in the beach sand with their flippers to make a hole into which she will deposit her 60-120 eggs and then cover the eggs with sand and go back to the sea leaving the baby turtles to hatch on their own and find their way into the sea.
The eggs are almost always laid at night and it can take up to two hours for the female to dig her nest, lay her eggs and go back into the sea. The eggs if not eaten by predators will hatch about two months after they are laid. One female turtle will make an average of six nests in one breeding season. The female turtles only breed once every two or three years.
Once the eggs hatch, they usually all hatch at once the tiny turtles begin to make their way to the sea. Many become food for gulls, dogs, raccoons, vultures, hawks and other predators before they reach the sea and others fall victim to larger fish once in the sea. It is estimated only 2% of the hatched chicks will survive their first few months.
The males that survive will never come ashore again and will remain in the sea for the rest of their lives. The females will return to the beaches but only to nest.
Panama has signed several international treaties to protect the leatherback turtles and actively monitors sea turtle mortality and nesting activities.