I never imagined I would be so dependent on a 60-gallon trash bag. I also never imagined I would spend my summer working with nesting Leatherback sea turtles in a foreign country in the Caribbean. I have spent 19 glorious days in St. Kitts and, during most of those days, I have walked the length of Keys beach looking for nesting turtles.
I had never interacted with a sea turtle, and up to this point, had only seen these ocean creatures in captivity. Here, we begin our trek at 8 pm and leave the beach by 4 am each night six days out of the week. The turtles are never guaranteed but that is to be expected in nature. During my first 5 days in St. Kitts, we did come across a nesting lady. But on Monday, May 13th, a call on the radio asked me to head towards the other side of the beach because a nesting Leatherback had been discovered.
I could feel my heart racing and my face increasing in temperature. The Leatherbacks look like living dinosaurs with silly grins. The lady Leatherback in our presence was most likely a first time layer, or a neophyte. She was particularly small in size, approximately weighing around 600 pounds with a carapace length of 147 cm. We could tell she was young and possibly a neophyte due to her lack of flipper tags and somewhat concern or distaste of human interaction. It was as if she had never been touched by a human before.
Each turtle that comes along the shore to nest is processed which includes applying flipper tags and pit tags for identification, taking blood and cloacal samples, observing injuries and scarring, and measuring their carapace length and width. Due to the seemingly slow pace of the season, I am still in the process of learning how to completely process a turtle.
If I have extra time, I spend the few hours of the day I am not sleeping exploring the island. I may stop at a coffee shop, visit a beach, or climb Brimstone Hill. So far, this has been a beautiful experience and I am excited to see what is to come over the next few months.