“One of the goals of our trip and excursions was to witness the birth of sea turtles on the beaches of Guyana. Shortly before my departure, I watched a documentary on television about the Awala nature reserve and the opportunity to witness turtle hatchlings with the guidance of reserve professionals.

This part of the trip consisted of several phases: exploring the reserve from the sky in an ultralight aircraft, walking through large sections of the reserve, and observing the work of the reserve specialists (if they were willing to spare us some time).

ULM flight over the Awala Reserve

Awala is a significant site for the protection of turtles, and we hoped to witness them coming ashore to lay their eggs or follow hatchlings (the baby turtles emerging from their nests buried 80 cm under the sand by the mother, for the Leatherback turtles) and their exhausting journey to the sea, avoiding the many predators that await their emergence (birds, reptiles, dogs, etc.). We knew our chances were slim because the peak nesting period is from May to July, but we were hoping for a stroke of luck …

There are three main types of turtles in Guyana: Leatherbacks nest from April to July, Greens from February to May, and Olive Ridleys from June to September. It’s worth noting that the incubation period for baby turtles from laying to hatching is roughly 52 days. So we had a better chance of seeing Olive Ridley turtle hatchings, with a slight possibility for the Leatherbacks.

Our visit to the Awala reserve was unsuccessful. We combed the beach far and wide at different times, but no turtles were in sight. The next day, we decided to seek help and explanations from the reserve staff. They welcomed us warmly and said, “No worries, come tomorrow at 6 a.m. (whoops!!), and the caretaker will show you the hatchery.” The hatchery is a protected area for eggs retrieved after laying and at risk due to their location, for example. Docile and motivated, we went to the hatchery the following day. A beautiful sunrise, half a dozen mosquito bites in 20 minutes, but no hatchlings: “It’s a shame because we had about ten yesterday!” You can imagine my disappointed expression! We were leaving for Kourou that same day, so the idea of seeing hatchlings was fading. I think the caretaker could sense my great disappointment and then offered a new option: “Are you going to Kourou? I’ll call the volunteers from Montjoly (60 km east of Kourou, near Cayenne). There are still Olive Ridley turtle hatchings. They will contact you to join them.” A kind gesture, but honestly, I no longer believed it.

We had scoured Montjoly Beach in all directions without success, except that we were told to go there at dusk, which was not a good idea. We were also not in the right time frame. Maybe it works at night, but our rendezvous was at 6 a.m. on the day of our departure to France!! Last chance. We woke up at 4 a.m. The turtles were worth it. Objectively, I no longer believed it. But faced with so much effort to help us see these turtles, we stuck to the plan. We were on Montjoly Beach at 6:10 a.m., but at its eastern end (we had paced the west part of the beach…) there, hallelujah: hundreds of turtles in the sand trying to reach the ocean. We had to be careful where we stepped to avoid crushing some of them. For us, it was a miracle and an emotional moment. I admit I shed a tear. I had wanted to witness this spectacle so much, and I thought I might not achieve it on this trip at least. The rest is beyond words. You can see it in the video. Thanks to the volunteers from the KWATA association who contacted us and directed us to the right place and time. They monitor the turtles’ nesting and hatching all year round, helping the babies who often lack a sense of direction and head in the wrong direction. It’s said with humor, but it represents hundreds of turtles that might never make it to the shore. Congratulations to the volunteers!!; they are amazing!”

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