Back to the turtles

Published: June 2nd 2008
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After quite a bit of traveling, I decided to go back to Gandoca to volunteer for another 2 weeks with the Sea turtles.
OK, so I got to the Park and as expected, nobody knew that I was coming. Just one sign of how isolated the Project Coordinators are. With no telephone or email, its always hard to reach the members in the Park, so updated volunteer lists are rare.
Anyway, as I was the only volunteer from the CRLA, my school and “had” to stay at the station as students from that school pay a bit less than volunteers that sign up directly via Widecast or I-to-I. Oh by the way, don’t book a volunteer project with I-to-I, they will rip you off big time! OK, so the station is just a bit more basic than the cabinas where I stayed the first time, but are totally all right and I even got my own room. Woohoo! Luxury!
As I didn’t need any training, I asked to be out on one of the patrol shifts straight away for that night. I found out quickly, that we only had 15 volunteers in the supposingly high season, which was quite surprising and a reason that the biologists were happy to see me. At this time of the year the project needs quite a few volunteers to cope with both hatcheries and patrols. But then again, there werent that many turtles to deal with at night...
So no surprise that I didnt see a turtles in my first night and actually no turtles for another week. But I did see ONE turtle on a late shift which came up on the beach just as we past that bit of the beach. It was again really exciting as I hadnt seen the whole procedure, which takes about 1.5 hours before. So, usually a Leatherback comes up on the beach at night as they are very sensitive to light (that’s why we only use red light), searches for a good spot, makes a body pit and starts digging. The nest is about 75cm deep and has the shape of a boot at the bottom. Once she finishes digging the nest, the turtle will start laying the eggs, which are usually about 70-80 fertile ones, round with a soft shell and about 30 infertile eggs on top, which have different shapes, mostly oval and are smaller. The theory behind the infertile eggs is for one to provide a ladder for the hatchlings once they hatch and secondly a buffer for predators who dig up the nest. If the leader decides to relocate the eggs due to the location of the nest on the beach we collect the eggs in a plastic bag. In my case we did decide to relocate the eggs to the hatchery. From digging the nest to laying the eggs, we have about 3 seconds to put in the bag under the turtles “output” and hold it. So basically holding the egg-bag means laying in the sand and waiting until the Turtle has finished her business which can be like 30 minutes. We then have another 3 seconds until the Turtle starts filling up the nest with sand and camouflages the area. While she is filling the nest, the volunteers measure her carpace, check for marks or injuries and take tag numbers. All this data, including location on the beach, has to be written down for statistics later on. The female Leatherbacks usually return to their birth beach every 2-3 years. They nest about 7 times in one year in a 9-11 day cycle. We know all this from the data taken in the last 20 years by Widecast and obviously general scientific data from all over the world. The Leatherbacks are critically endangered like all sea turtles. I believe its been calculated that they have about 15 years until they are extinct. OK, this is enough statistics and data...
So, anyway, I held a Flipper while our turtle was nesting! Sooo cool! And that was my only turtle... But a great one!
The project is amazing and although or maybe especially because I only saw 1 Turtle in 2 weeks, I appreciate the natural beauty of seeing these big creatures even more! Unlike student groups who only volunteer for 2 days, dont help with the beach cleaning (which we did every day) nor had to do any hatchery shifts of 6 hours and see 3 turtles in one night, have a photographer amongst them and get a picture with a turtle... They probably think a Turtle on the beach is nothing special...
Ok, bottom line! Go and save Sea turtles!!! ;-)
Hasta luego


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