Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Long Awaited First Night-Walk…

Being one of the ‘5-weekers’, it was difficult to arrive at Jalova at the same time as the 2-weekers and see them jump into their marine turtle surveys within days, whilst we set to work with our week of intensive training in various protocols and first aid (albeit for a more diverse program). By the time I was scheduled for my own first night walk, a week and a half into the program, most of the other 5-weekers had already seen and worked their first turtles, tagging, measuring them and counting their eggs as they were laid. By the time I was due to set out, I was anxious to experience what had been building up over the past few days – learning how to work a turtle was one thing on paper, but it was hard to know what to expect before going out into the field and getting my hands dirty (or sandy).

Setting off onto the beach under moonlight, it didn’t take long to see the first of the huge eerie shells, clumsily throwing up sand around them as they disguised their nests and headed back to the sea. Unfortunately this was past the right stage for marking the nest, so we continued along the beach as our patrol leader Loraine checked the nests around her. Loraine had a bit of a reputation around base as a ‘turtle-working machine’, and after months of staffing at Jalova she still had the enthusiasm to rival most of the new volunteers - I could tell as she hurried back towards us that she’d found something exciting. Whilst we expected only to be working the familiar Green Turtle, we’d come across a critically endangered Hawksbill, who’d just finished covering her eggs. The opportunity was not one to be missed, and we set about working her, the others triangulating the position of the nest as I measured the length of her carapace (shell). With all the data collected, we took a break to make sure she got back to the sea - which turned out to be more difficult than it sounds, as she decided to scale a massive log rather than plod around it, which took several attempts (obviously millions of years of evolution wasn’t quite enough for the development of basic route planning).

Next we came across a Green who had just started laying her eggs. We were just in time to count the eggs that she had laid by sight, and then it was my job to resume the counting by way of placing my gloved hand underneath her tail and feeling the eggs drop into my hand. Her carapace leant down onto my arm with each contraction, and I gently placed the laid eggs into the sand. I’m generally a pretty cynical person, but with the intimate experience of counting the eggs of a giant prehistoric creature, to the backdrop of the distant thunder and lightning out at sea, I can at least see how some people relate to the spirituality of watching the turtles climb out of the sea to lay, as they have done for millennia. The closest I could ever have got to this back in England is by slouching in front of a documentary! I am grateful for GVI for giving me such an opportunity; with 3 weeks left on the program, I would be happy for that to be my only night walk, but am assured that there will be many more like it.

Robbie Eyre



Gap Year said...

I absolutely adore turtles, they are a real pleasure to dive with. In the sense that you can see them under water, not in the sense you do your buddy checks with them... :)