The leatherback turtle in the beaches of Puerto Rico

Coordinates: 18°22′38″N 65°42′54″O

The fascinating experience of watching a leatherback turtle, the biggest marine turtle in the world, lay its eggs was nature’s miracle materialized in front of our eyes. I had access to a restricted area in the coastal zone of Luquillo, where I was able to witness a wonderful sight. It was almost two in the morning when the biologist of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources sighted the turtle coming out of the water. Since 1985, the Department maintains projects that promote the nesting of marine turtles in different beaches of the island.

Calmly, the turtle started coming out of the water. The biologist kept the group of spectators at a distance to avoid disrupting the process. From where I was settled, and with the moon as the only source of light, I was able to observe the slow and heavy movements of the gigantic turtle progressing to a place far off the water.

  The turtle made the gap with her back legs. Photo: Provided

The turtle made the gap with her back legs. Photo: Provided

The laying of eggs

There, far from the waves, the process of making a nest in the sand started. With its anterior fins, the turtle dug a hole, the size of its body. Then, with its posterior fins, the leatherback turtle took out the sand and pushed it towards the sides. It’s impressive to see how its posterior fins take a concave form that helps it make a hole where the eggs will be eventually deposited. Almost out of breath from amazement, I continued focused on this spectacle that nature gave me as a present. We were all dumbfounded. It seemed as if we were part of a beautiful ritual and the only thing felt in the environment was a great respect and veneration for Mother Earth, for that turtle becoming a mother…

It was impressive to see how this specie, of almost six feet long and that can weigh almost a thousand pounds, moved slowly, at its own rhythm, accompanied by the silence that overcame the environment. I felt an extreme emotion and, at the same time, a lot of impatience to see the outcome of this process, but the animal moved without a rush, slowly, like in a deep, sublime ecstasy. 

  The leatherback turtle can lay until one hundred eggs. Photo: Provided

The leatherback turtle can lay until one hundred eggs. Photo: Provided

The tears

Once the turtle finished building up the nest, it started to lay its eggs. Like in slow motion, the turtle let its eggs drop, one by one, until laying almost a hundred eggs. While the turtle lays its eggs, tears start coming out of its eyes. The biologist explains that this is to maintain the eyes humid and sand-free. From my own maternal point of view, I think that the turtle is suffering labor pains, like all mothers do. 

  While the turtle lays its eggs, tears start coming out of its eyes.. Photo: Provided

While the turtle lays its eggs, tears start coming out of its eyes.. Photo: Provided

The camouflage

Once the mother finished laying all its eggs, it covers them with sand. Little by little, in the same way the nest was made, the turtle covers it calmly. The nest is completely covered, but the turtle, like a mother, has to protect its young. For this reason, the mother tries to camouflage the area where the nest is located. Throwing sand around the nest with its fins and erasing tracks with its body, the leatherback turtle achieves, in front of our astonished eyes, to completely eliminate any mark in the sand that can reveal the nest’s position.

  After laying the eggs, the turtle tries to cover the area. Photo: Provided

After laying the eggs, the turtle tries to cover the area. Photo: Provided

A thousand eggs in only one season

Then, with the same slowness with which it came out of the beach, it majestically returns to the water to repeat the same process in the next few weeks. During the reproductive period, the female can lay eggs every two weeks, making from three to eight nests. This allows the turtle to lie up to a thousand eggs in only one season, but they don’t do so every year, but every two or four years.

This specie that has lived in planet Earth for millions of years remains throughout its life on the ocean and can be found crossing the Atlantic, Pacific, or Indian Ocean. This marine turtle specie lays eggs in the coasts of Puerto Rico from March to August, since it migrates to the tropics in its reproductive season. One can observe this process in some beaches in the west, north, and east of Puerto Rico. It also lays eggs in the Virgin Islands. It is believed that the females make their nests on the same beach where they were born. 

  This marine turtle specie lays eggs in the coasts of Puerto Rico during the summer months. Photo: Pamy Rojas

This marine turtle specie lays eggs in the coasts of Puerto Rico during the summer months. Photo: Pamy Rojas

Endangered Species

Federal laws and the government of Puerto Rico protect all of the marine turtles and the leatherback turtle is no exception. In 1970, it was included on the lists of endangered species. This means that every person that harms or tries to catch this turtle is going to be reprimanded with fines or jail time, according to federal laws.

Protecting the leatherback turtle is the responsibility of every good citizen. It’s important to notify the authorities if you know someone who sells or distributes any part of the turtle or if you notice a nest on the beach that it’s not properly identified for its protection.


Read more about Luquillo in the stories section.


Conscious Travel Practices:

1. Learn about the relevance of the leatherback turtle and its conservation.

2. Live an experience that can change your life.

3. Develop more environmental awareness.

4. Enjoy the experience without leaving trash behind or disturbing the process of the specie.