National Geographic : 1967 Jun
Beating flippers like wings, green tur tles can swim nearly as fast as a man runs. Comparatively sluggish on land, young turtles flip-flop across a Cape Sable, Florida, beach (left). At water's edge frantic paddling begins as hatch lings start to swim. Although found principally in the trop ics, Atlantic greens wander sporadically from New England to Argentina; they nest prolifically at Turtle Bogue and Ascension Island. Those hatched on Ascension-midway between Africa and South America--ride the South Equato rial Current to Brazil, where they mature. Tagging indicates that the nesting urge drives them back to Ascension. To find the seven-mile-long island across 1,400 miles of unbroken ocean, the greens must rely on an unknown, inborn navigation system. In those days the end seemed near for the Tortu guero turtle colony. Today, however, the whole Costa Rican shore is legally protected from turtling. It is against the law to dig up eggs or to disturb any turtle on land. In spite of restrictions, the inroads continue. The law permits the harpooning of turtles beyond the breaker line. A man good with the iron can often harpoon both the male and female of a mating pair. Boats go back to Lim6n loaded down with turtles (map, opposite). Poachers Endanger Green Colonies Even on the beach the killing has not stopped com pletely. Poachers find it easy to move in behind the thin-spread guards. I saw a sample of their work on a recent flight from Lim6n to Tortuguero. It was my first visit to the camp that year, and I asked the pilot, who flew regularly along the beach, how the green turtle crop seemed that season. "Hay muchas," he said. "Plenty of them. But the poachers are many, too." He banked seaward and flew along just over the edge of the forest, so I could look down on the Bogue. In a broad zone between high-tide reach and the beach scrub, patches of what looked like torn-up white paper 882 littered the dark obsidian sand.