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Closer to nature

The trinidad Guardian / To say it was cold and dark when we walked along the Matura beach two Mondays ago would be an understatement.

It was around 8 pm, the sky was overcast and the only real light we had to guide our path was the red light coming from the hiker’s headlamp being used by chairman of Nature Seekers Kyle Mitchell.

The sea breeze was blowing intensely.

T&T Guardian photographer Shirley Bahadur and I reached Matura more than nine hours earlier and I was ready to head back home.

It was a fun filled day, I made a bracelet using beads made from discarded glass bottles, hiked, took a river bath and kayaked, but now I was tired.

All I wanted was my bed I thought, as we walked along the beach.

Then Mitchell and Nevon Williams, the two who were leading our group, stopped.

Williams pointed to some flipper prints in the sand heading to the sea.

It took a trained eye to see these tiny prints in the dark and it took a skilled person to be able identify them.

Judging from the prints, Williams said they belonged to baby leatherback turtles and there would be a nest nearby.

Williams began to dig into the beach sand with his hands where he estimated the nest should be.

Deeper and deeper he dug.

Then Mitchell spotted and pulled out the first hatchling.

In all, Williams and Mitchell pulled out eight hatchlings and an unhatched egg.

When the hatchlings were placed on the sand I thought they were all dead, as they were motionless.

However, Williams and Mitchell said this was not the case.

After rubbing the hatchlings on their backs and placing them close together, even one on top of the other, they started to move about.

Their destination was the sea, which was about ten feet away.

Mitchell said we should not just pick them up and give them an express trip to the sea, but rather the hatchlings needed to find their own way there so they could acclimatise to the temperature.

Their natural instinct would guide them to the brightest light, which in this case was the moonlight reflecting off of the sea, he said.

As we cheered on and rooted for the hatchlings to find their way, two other members of the Nature Seekers team who walked ahead to help in our search for leather back hatchlings returned with two other hatchlings in their hands.

But these two hatchlings were not leatherback turtles but hawksbill turtles.

We were allowed to hold both species of hatchlings.

Knowing the size that adult leatherback turtles could reach, it was amazing to be able to have held hold one in the palm of my hand.

The hawksbill hatchlings were significantly smaller than their leatherback counterparts.

The way they manoeuvred toward the sea was also quite different, with each species making different prints in the sand.

As all the hatchlings made their way closer to the sea the white crests of the waves took them away.

It was something truly amazing to see and be a part of.

Trinidad and Tobago has one of the largest nesting populations of leatherback turtles in the world, with over 6000 leatherback turtles nesting here each year.

In contrast, only a few hawksbill and green turtles nest on our beaches each year.

Taking care of the turtles is a main goal of Nature Seekers.

The group was established in 1990 to assist in the protection of the endangered leatherback turtles on the Matura beach.

Between March and August, Nature Seekers offers tours to see the leatherback turtles coming to nest on Matura beach, which many people attend yearly.

I have been a part of that tour before and it is something breathtaking to see.

It was fascinating to see the next step in that process, with the hatchlings making their way into the sea and starting their lives.

About 60 days after a leatherback turtle lays her eggs the hatchlings emerge from their nests.

The Ministry of Tourism facilitated our trip to Matura to see Nature Seekers operations first-hand as part of our ongoing Staycation series to highlight the beauty of this country.

Among the tours that Nature Seekers offers are kayaking along the Salybia River, as well as hiking to Mermaid Pool and the Rio Seco Waterfall.

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