Andrés Baquero and Felipe Vallejos of Equilibrio Azul took us out to survey a few of the beaches that their team patrols for nesting sea turtles. Their field sites area all within Parque Nacional Machalilla, which is north of Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil. In addition to the hawksbills that were our focus, green turtles and olive ridleys also nest in Machalilla.
IN DEPTH: Learn more about Ecuador.
The first beach we explored, Los Frailes, spanned more than two kilometers (1.2 miles) of pristine white sand, was backed by dry forest scrub and bookended by rocky cliffs. If I were a nesting sea turtle, I'd think this was a great spot to make my nest.
Within the first few minutes of walking, we spotted a turtle on the beach being washed over by the surf. However, this was not the type of encounter we’d been expecting: it was a non-nesting juvenile green turtle (juvenile sea turtles never come onto land) and it was being flipped over and over by the waves. We pulled the turtle up onto dry sand to assess its condition. It was in bad shape: emaciated, covered in a thick mat of algae and goose-necked barnacles and barely alive.
||While the algae and barnacles don't hurt the turtle, they indicate an underlying problem. In this case, the turtle was too weak to swim or move quickly which allowed the buildup on his shell.|
A juvenile green turtle that was found flipped over and washed up on the beach, emaciated, covered in algae and barnacles and barely alive. It was taken to the field station and placed on an incline, head-down, to allow any water in its lungs to drain. © CI/Photo by Bryan Wallace
In addition to several other parasites, we noticed something protruding from the turtle's cloaca (the single opening for excretion and reproduction), which turned out to be a four-inch long piece of plastic bag. Unfortunately, this bit of plastic foreshadowed the cause of the turtle's dire condition; after it died, we confirmed that most of its gut was full of plastic and other trash.
VIDEO: Watch the team finding this unfortunate turtle.
– Reported by Bryan Wallace
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