The coastal town of Malena, in the western side of the Azuero Peninsula in central Panama (Veraguas province) is special for many reasons. Small and quiet, with happy and kind people, no sale of alcoholic beverages and a strong conservation sense. Some fourteen years ago, members of the community started to protect the sea turtles that use Malena beach as a nesting site. After identifying the main threats (like feral dogs, illegal poaching for the eggs, inappropriate use of the beach and so on....) they started to take action, to train and to consult with NGOs and state agencies, and established a strong conservation program that now is an example to follow for other communities.
|Welcome to Malena beach: nesting area|
Taking advantage of our stay in Hotel Heliconia (yes, that's another story), we visited Malena some days ago and contacted Ana, who owns and runs the Hostal Iguana Verde at town, to plan a visit to the nesting area on the beach. She explained that, from June to December, community volunteers patrol the beach in order to find active nests to then relocate the eggs in two designated areas where they take care of them.
|Gloriela and Gabrielle in Malena beach|
When the eggs are about to hatch, they surround the nest with a kind of mesh and begin to monitor them more closely. When the little sea turtles hatch, they remain in a state of lethargy under the sand until they are ready to go to the sea... a period marked by a burst of activity in the little turtles that push them towards the sea. The volunteers collect the turtles in a basket when this happens, and leave them at least 10 meters from the beach. These 10 meters are very important for the tiny sea turtles to enable them to return exactly to the same beach as adults to spawn the next generation.
Ana showed us some recently hatched sea turtles that were starting to warm up. They were young Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta), one of four species of sea turtles that nest in Malena beach seasonally. We decided to wait for them to be more active while Ana explained us that somehow, some sea turtles managed to "scape" from the designated area and "ran" to the sea earlier that day. For our surprise, Ana found one of those escapees frantically "running" to the sea!
|Trust me, there is a tiny sea turtle in front of them towards the sea|
What an overwhelming experience! Watching this tiny sea turtle following its instincts developed after millions of years of evolution is simply amazing. Ana decided to release the most active sea turtles that we saw earlier at the designated area. As soon as they felt the sand began its journey to the sea.
The effort and dedication of the people of Malena ensure that our future generations can enjoy this wonder of nature, and these noble creatures that need all our help to survive. Congratulations to Ana and all the volunteers that keep this program alive and we hope to have this experience again... soon!