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Baby turtles released to `repay nature'

Saved from ending up as a tasty treat in someone's stomach, 2,500 newborn sea turtles marched into the Pacific waters guided by local people whose own future depends on them.

Dozens of families in this seafront town, 30 miles south of San Salvador, live by selling turtle eggs. But as the number of turtles has diminished, they have realized the need to save the seafaring reptiles from extinction.Men, women and children released the army of baby turtles along the beach Wednesday, hoping that they will return to lay new generations of eggs that will continue to support their trade.

In the last year, local residents have returned some 10,000 sea turtles to the ocean. Another 10,000 eggs currently in incubation are expected to hatch within the next two months.

"Our objective is to repay the nature which allows to have our daily bread," said Antonio Benavides, chief of the local hatchery.

Between June and November, the season when the sea turtles lay eggs, local residents go out at night to search for the small eggs. They receive up to $4 for each dozen they collect.

"We want to keep the turtles from disappearing. For this, with all determination, we are trying to contribute so that future generations can know this species," Benavides said while showing groups of newborn turtles.

Some of the turtles freed Wednesday will return within about seven years to leave dozens of eggs, many of which will end up on sale in a market. One turtle can lay between eight and 12 dozen eggs in a cycle.

Under a radiant sun, young children helped guide the tiny turtles through the crashing waves.

"I feel happy to have contributed because some of these turtles were born from the six dozen eggs that I gave," 14-year-old Alfredo Melendez, said, his small hands carrying the young turtles to sea.