Hamamatsu is the largest city in Shizuoka—the prefecture in central Japan most famous for sharing Mount Fuji with neighboring Yamanashi Prefecture. Yet a spectacular event happens annually here that manages to fly mostly out of sight of the national tourism radar.
From May to August, loggerhead sea turtles come out of the ocean and onto the beaches of Hamamatsu’s Nakatajima Beach in an instinctual ritual—the laying of their eggs. The sea turtle mothers drag themselves onto the dunes after a nearly 30-year time away, riding the currents from their western Pacific birthplaces to the American and Central American west coasts to feed.
The eggs hatch from mid-August to early October, and it’s during this time that volunteers from the Sanctuary Nature Center begin their yearly process of protecting the eggs. For ¥800, locals and tourists can apply to release a baby loggerhead into the ocean by hand, as well.
The Sanctuary Nature Center
The Sanctuary Nature Center, a research institute covered with giant loggerhead sea turtle replicas at Nakatajima Beach, focuses most of the year on educating the public on conservation. It does, however, take on the role of nurturers once the eggs are buried by the sea turtles.
After mom has retreated into the ocean, the eggs, similar in shape and size to ping pong balls, are dug up and reburied in a safe location that is monitored by the sanctuary until they hatch. The eggs are soft but leathery, which keeps them from breaking when falling into the nesting hole. The loggerhead hatchlings use a tiny horn on their noses to tear the shell open at birth.
While this may sound like a delicate and sensitive process, it’s often a part of local school field trips. It’s a wonderful learning experience for children, but it’s also a testament to how tough the turtles are and how they have to survive the most dangerous period of their lives—the start.
Once the eggs hatch, the baby turtles begin a fight for survival, crawling their way to the ocean to grow and begin the cycle anew. Their journey from the egg to the ocean is now much more dangerous due to humans. Due to threats such as hunting, global warming, waste and artificial light, these creatures are vulnerable globally. Thus, Sanctuary Nature Center volunteers take the opportunity to give the baby turtles a head start—and anyone can apply to join in the experience.
With the eggs collected, the turtles can hatch without the threat of predators, humans or environmental dangers thwarting their journey to the sea. The hatchlings are then brought to the beach in batches, where they’re freed by research workers and volunteers.
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