We visit French Polynesia’s turtle Sanctuary, Te Mana O’ Te Moana located on the grounds of the Intercontinental Hotel on Mo’orea. The actual hotel is closed due to covid, but the sanctuary is open on Wednesdays from 10:00am-12:00n. So, we made a reservation and headed to shore.
I won’t bore you with the details, but we were scolded for being dropped off directly at Te Mana O’ Te Moana which was forbidden. Better to ask for forgiveness I said 🙂
Te Mana O’ Te Moana
The clinic was created in 2004 with financial help from the local government. They have helped over 500 turtles since their opening. Their main goal is to shelter, heal, and release all possible turtles into the wild.
Currently, 25 turtles reside at the clinic. They have 6 infants, 14 juveniles, 1 one blind turtle, 1 turtle who swims in circles, and 3 that can’t dive. The clinic shelters and treats found sick, wounded, mutilated, or seized turtles. They see four species: green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and olive ridley. The turtles in house are only green and hawksbill right now.
Sea turtles are weighed, measured, and their shells scrubbed once a week. Growth process, and behavior will determine the date of the release. Resident sea turtles are fed daily with squid, capelans, herrings and sardines. Turtles that are recovering are fed less frequently and during irregular times with the hopes of teaching them to fend for themselves in the future.
About Te Mana O’ Te Moana
Te Mana O’ Te Moana is perfectly located in an area with strong natural current that allows for the continuous renewal of fresh water. The clinic waters are 50 meters long, 8 meters wide, and 2 meters deep. They have 7 enclosures: one for intensive care and one for juveniles. The rest of the enclosures are for medical care.
Green turtles are the only major nesting species in French Polynesia. They are named for the green color of the fat that is under its shell. Green turtles are known for their meat and are still poached in the Pacific Islands. The average weight is 150kg and average size is 120cm.
The clinic also has a few Hawksbill turtles. They are named for its narrow head and hawk-like beak. Their average weight is 60kg and average size is 80cm. They are known as the prettiest of sea turtles because of their unique designs on their skin and shells.
Residents at the Clinic
One very large hawksbill turtle has a problem with swimming in circles – always clockwise. Evidently he is “capable” of swimming in a straight line, but he choses to swim in circles which prohibits him from being released into the wild. There is also a blind female turtle and 3 turtles who are unable to dive. The clinic puts t-shirts on the turtles who can’t dive because their shells are not meant to be exposed by the sun for extended periods of time.
We enjoyed the juveniles or teens who have an orange color. I just love how they rest their front flippers on their back.
Did you know during the first months of life, turtles are very aggressive and can seriously bite each other. The clinic has to separate the most assertive ones.
And of course the infants:
Mating and Building Nests
Males court females by gently biting the back of her neck. If the female does not flee, the male firmly attaches himself to the back of the female’s shell by gripping her top shell with claws on his front flippers, often inflicting visible scratches on the female.
Females may mate with several males just prior to the nesting season. Research has found that females can store the sperm of a variety of males and fertilize the eggs later in the mating season.
Females return to the same beach where they were born. She hauls herself onto the beach where she digs a hole 12′ deep using her anterior flippers. Then she lays between 15-200 eggs (depending on the species). The momma then refills the nest with sand and returns to the ocean – never seeing or meeting her young ones. Females typically dig their nests at night and it takes them several hours.
Each female turtle will nest up to 5 times during season. She will take 10-15 days off in between each nest. Only 1 out of 100 baby turtles will survive to adulthood.
First years of Life:
After 2-months of incubation, the baby sea turtle hatchlings break open their shells. Dig out of the nest (which can take several days), burst out of nest as a group. The gender of the turtle is dependent on the temperature of the sand. Males prefer colder sand and are found near the bottom of the nest where as females prefer warmer sand and are found near the top.
The baby turtles proceed quickly to the ocean and swim several miles, for several days. They will spend their first years of their lives in thick seaweed mats floating in the middle of the ocean. This was previously known as the “lost years.” Here they will have shelter and food until they are stronger.
After a few years, juvenile sea turtles swim to feeding areas where they will stay until adulthood. Sexual maturity happens late in sea turtle’s life, between 20-40 years.
Of course, they have to survive the long transit from the nest to the sea. Avoiding rats, crabs, and birds that like to eat them. Once at sea, they have to avoid the eels, larger fish and more birds. This on top of fending for themselves, finding food, and swimming are all hard on a young turtle.
Te Mana O’ Te Moana checks and monitors nesting sites. They make every effort possible to help the turtle population. If you would like to donate, please do so at Te Mana O’ Te Moana.
In our next blog we visit a transparent kayak tour and the boys learn how to foil. Did you forget to read our last blog where we did a death march through Opunohu Valley?
Events from this blog post occurred during the first week of August, 2021. Our blog posts run 10-12 weeks behind our adventures.