I never heard of turtles nesting in Panama City. My dad, who grew up in Calle 6ta San Felipe and who never had a talent for surfing (or dangerous sports like my uncles who practiced a bit of everything including parachuting) always got the job of watching out for sharks (yes, sharks) and alert his friends who would be swimming or surfing at the point break (still existing) by Plaza Francia (Las Bovedas). But never stories of turtles. After that, the city grew, modern Panama exploded, our bay got contaminated and only now the government has started to clean up.
Several months ago, while looking at old family photos, I saw one of him as a baby lying on a beach. The background had a fence with a palm and it was clearly a Casco Viejo fence, since I could recognize the style from an existing one here. But the beach was wide, the fence was a bit “off” and the palm… I couldn`t put it together.
So this past Monday, at 11 p.m. a turtle showed up in Casco Viejo, without much announcement stayed there and laid her eggs. She appeared at the beach nearby the Union Club to the surprise of Casco Viejo residents who managed to take this photo trying not to scare her away. Some reported turtles at Calle 5ta´s beach as well, on the same night.
No one has been able to put it together. Turtles nesting in Casco? we called turtle specialist from the Smithsonian, Argelis Ruiz and she was fascinated. “This is really interesting” she said this morning. “Normally you see them at undisturbed sites, but now … here?” She identified the turtle as a Lepidochelys Olivacea, a species that grows up to 100 pounds. Casconians are very excited, and ngo`s such as Almanaque Azul and AVACA are getting ready to implement a strategy to help protect the eggs.
But I could not get out of the shock, and suddenly everything seemed to have sense. My father`s photo, the turtle, the beach, the unrecognized palm. After being in this business for a while, I think I`ve developed some sort of sixth sense for property and recognizing historic landmarks. They stay at the back of my mind until resolved.
I searched my Casco Viejo historic photos and found this one showing back in the days what is now the Ministry of Justice and National Theatre. Next to it, there is (now) a big public parking (2 levels), obviously a modern construction. But my historic photo showed something else: showed a beautiful green park.. and a fence. Of course! the beach extended all the way up there. My father is over 60 years (he would kill me if I reveal exactly how much) and turtles live quite longer than that (over 100 years!). Doesn´t popular knowledge says they always come back to their place of birth to lay eggs? there you go. She most have found the neighborhood quite changed!
Hopefully, the oldest living Casconian will be able to visit us again and again in the future. With a bit of luck and love, we will do what is within our power to ensure that she is able and will always be able to do so.