Friday, December 16, 2011

Turtles and People Both Burrow Out of the Sand for the Holidays!

Volunteer Karin escorts a hatchling to the sea.

As the last phase of the year wraps up and the holidays approach, the Green Sea Turtle nesting season does so as well (conveniently!). The work being done with the turtles shifts during this period from tagging turtles, marking new nests, and looking for fresh turtle tracks to keeping a watchful eye on the already laid nests, watching for signs of hatchlings, and excavating already hatched nests to better understand how well the nest did.

Although the only turtles being seen are hatchlings at this point, this second half of the conservation work is equally important and ends up revealing quite a bit of useful data. This work is done until the last of the nests have hatched and been excavated, usually in mid-December. Despite the jaguars continuing to patrol the beach almost every night in hopes of finding a meal, the beach is relatively quiet and empty until the Leatherback season starts in several months.

This phase was quite successful for our Sea Turtle program. Not only did we have a good number of nests of the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle, we also had several Green Sea Turtles nest multiple times on our section of the beach during this single season, which is a very good sign. We had no major setbacks and it seems that everyone is content with the data we were able to get.

There were plenty of unusual encounters this phase as well. 2 different Leatherback Sea Turtle tracks were found, which is utterly confusing because we are right in the middle of the off-season for that species of turtle. Hopefully over time our data collection here will help reveal why that might happen. We also found some startling things in the excavated nests, including albino hatchlings and twins (fraternal AND Siamese!).

Despite the unfortunate discoveries of signs of poaching at several points throughout the season, it undoubtedly turned out to be a successful season and phase for GVI’s turtle program. We were lucky to have an especially enthusiastic group of volunteers and interns which made this possible. Everybody was able to be involved in the turtle work and nearly everybody was lucky enough to witness hatchlings dashing for the sea, truly a magical moment when you remember that the females won’t return for over a decade and the males never will.

-Kevin, Expedition Field Staff