Over a week ago, high school students from Washington, D.C. began spending a few hours each night on patrol with us on the beach. Last night was their last night. At first, I was a bit worried about the whole ordeal. You never know how over ten high school students will act on a beach in the middle of the night. But, in the end, I more than enjoyed their company. I spent most of my time with the same students and will wonder how things will turn out for them. One student in particular mentioned to me how seeing a Leatherback was a life changing experience for him and how he’d like to go into the field of Marine Biology. Who knows- maybe he’s a turtle conservationist in the making? At every chance, he was front and center in any activity involving a turtle or its nest. Good kids.
They were lucky enough to see a turtle a few nights ago. It was going on 2 weeks without seeing a nesting Lady and they were only patrolling for about 9 day. She was incredibly small- her crawl width only expanding to 98 cm and approximately weighing around 400 lbs. She had to just be at the sexual maturity mark- 25 years. Still has some time to grow.
It has been a rough season in every aspect possible. The weather has been ridiculous and we’ve had to leave the beach early several times. I injured myself a few days ago and now it’s quite possible that my toe nail will eventually fall off after some time. And, the worst of all, is that the nesting season has been horrendously slow. We’ve had maybe 14 individual turtles and around 40-50 individual nests. This time last year? Around 50-65 individuals and somewhere between 100-300 nests. We don’t know what’s going on but this definitely isn’t normal. Maybe something environmental? Leatherbacks generally come back every ten days to lay another clutch of eggs and we haven’t even observed their return. Something is up.
On the students’ last night, we excavated two nests. I only saw one due to the length of time it took to excavate the first one and someone needed to walk my section of the beach. The director wasn’t expecting us to see anything live. These nests were due Sunday and not a single hatchling track was spotted coming from the nest’s origin and these nests were moved after a high tide had washed over them. So, as we began, we found a lot of unhatched eggs. Out of nowhere, appeared a single hatchling. One lone hatchling in a clutch of over 100 yolked eggs had fully developed, hatched, and survived. My first Leatherback hatchling! I held this small hatchling in the palm of my hands … Not many people get to hold a sea turtle hatchling in general, much less a Leatherback. We brought him close to the water’s edge and placed him in the sand. He/she got a little confused and we had to direct him with a red-lighted head lamp to direct him to the sea. One of the teachers was in charge of this and the joy in her voice was enough to tell you her life had forever changed. The hatchling successfully made it after a few attempts. Good luck, my little friend!
Sea turtle hatchlings will swim for up to 72 hours after they hit the water to find a patch of sargassum. Once they find one, they hide there and find small particles of food until they are large enough to explore the ocean. This takes years in itself.
They say 1 in 1000 hatchlings will make it to adulthood. The life of a sea turtle truly is a miracle.
The juvenile sea turtle I was taking charge of was moved to a larger enclosure only to return to my care after about a week. Something in the water there was bothering his eyes and he wasn’t eating enough. We think he may have a vision problem and it’s much harder for him to find food in a larger enclosure. So, he is with me until we figure out how to fix the water. His vision issue is concerning. Will he make it in the wild? Should he be euthanized? Should he be kept in a facility? The director has decided that she cannot go forth with euthanizing the little one and believes she will release him in a few weeks. We’re going to give him a chance of survival in the wild. You never know, he could be the 1 in a 1ooo.
I went to in water on Sunday and watched the team catch a Hawksbill. I have pictures of the process and such.
Me? I am tired. So tired. I have never been this exhausted for such a long period of time in my life. I long for every extra minute of sleep I can find. I do love this internship, it’s just a more than tiring experience. I have night and day duties and sometimes it’s hard to even find a gap for a few hours of sleep. For awhile there, the director and I were becoming cranky, sleep deprived zombies just going through the motions. When you’re overtired, entertaining high school students, and going out each night to be disappointed by the lack of sea turtles, things can get a little rough. And I miss home, I do. It’s difficult. I still have over a month left here and we may end the season early. That doesn’t mean I’ll go home, it just means no more night patrols.
So far, I’ve seen 4 Leatherback ladies, a Leatherback hatchling, a Green hatchling, a green juvenile, and a young Hawksbill. I guess I’ll see what’s soon to come.