Although I have visited Bahia Beach Resort several times over the years, I have never had the opportunity to actually participate in one activity that is on my bucket list. In addition to rainforest and river, there ar two miles of Atlantic Ocean beach along the northern border of Bahia Beach Resort. This beach supports sea turtle nests, including my bucket lister, the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the largest living sea turtle in the world.
At Bahia Beach Resort, located near the town of Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, leatherbacks nest on the beach from February to July each year. In close coordination with the Puerto Rican Department of Natural And Environmental Resources (DNER), resort staff works to protect these magnificent animals during their early stages of life. The security and beach maintenance staff share surveillance of the beach. When a turtle is spotted either nesting, entering or exiting the water, or a nest is found, the DNER office in charge is immediately notified and marks the area. Bahia’s staff ropes off that area and then patrols the beach to protect those known nests from predators and from vandalism. In Puerto Rico, vandalism of the nests is a great threat to the leatherbacks. The eggs are illegally used as a local delicacy believed to have aphrodisiac properties. The turtles are also eaten by some of the locals.
Hatching begins typically in June and ends by August. The eggs hatch usually during the night, and the hatchlings head directly toward the water. This is reported to be the most dangerous time in a turtle’s life as you can imagine. Once out of the shell, and with their innnate sense of direction, they rush frantically toward the ocean. This is the time when predators can attack them and unfortunately, when a significant percentage are snatched from the beach and the ocean. So hatchlings at Bahia Beach are usually accompanied by volunteers lead by the natural resources officer to protect the turtles and assure that they can make it to the ocean free from predation which increases their ultimate chance of survival.
Several of the hatchlings often become educational opportunities for resort residents, guests and staff. During the 2011 season 24 nests were located and more than 1,500 eggs hatched. To alert St. Regis Hotel guests of the hatching event, each guest is provided information about the nesting season upon arrival and, if interested, they are updated on the nesting progress. The natural resources officer and security personnel provide guidance and information about the process during educational sessions on the beach to give guests a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The owners of Bahia Beach Resort are firmly committed to preserving the natural environment and have set aside nearly 65% of the resort land as green space. They have transplanted more than 4,000 trees and planted more than 62,000 native plants on the property while adding 6,500 linear feet of aquatic plants along pond banks and restored coastal habitat. I find it very encouraging and actually comforting to know that, in addition, Bahia Beach is on the forefront of an effort to save such a prehistoric species as the leatherback turtle. We applaud Bahia Beach’s effort to help save a species from extinction. It is almost as if they stand guard to protect a whole species for the rest of us to experience. I know I am greatly looking forward to the time when I can experience leatherback nesting, and check this event off of my bucket list.