Saturday, February 5, 2011
Data collection book (water-proof paper)
date when first hatched and how many emerged
date when excavated (stages something like below but not exactly)
how many alive and dead
stage 0 (no yolk)
stage 2 (some development)
stage 3 (baby turtle-like)
gloves to use (salmonella if alive, maggots if they are dead)
First Aid Kit
tool for measuring length and width of carapace and head width
yardstick to measure depth of chamber (sometimes if the chamber is too shallow, then the nest gets too hot and the hatchlings die)
heavy duty bucket to put hatchlings in (won't break down in the sun as quickly)
Just after the break and heading south, a leatherback heading up the sand.
Sophie counted. "'Bout 60 eggs. huge. And a perfectionist about her digging and cover and camouflage. She used her tail and stuck it down like it was a focal point and used her flippers like windshield wipers. It rooted her where she wanted to be and she was able to do what she needed to do for the covering."
Olive Ridley put tracks down just north of hotel. She had not been crimped so Kim had to run back and get the crimpers from Jacob who came from north. If she tried to go back to sea, Kim told Sophie to put her knee on top of her shell so she could not go back into the sea!! Luckily Kim made it back in time.
North: 4 nests hatched; Sal, Jacob Hill; windless
Jacob Hill and Sal came upon some hatchlings cruising to the ocean. They quickly dug a shallow hole and Jacob measured while Sal tried to keep them in the hole and write down the measurements at the same time. It was fun chaos. They measured length and width of carapace and width of head of 11, noted time and date of occurrence. They caught more than 11, but they were scurrying so fast they could not get them all!
South: nada; Bill, James
Sophie and I were swimming. I came out of the water to greet Jacob and Kim who were coming for a dip when they looked down and there she was digging! I looked down and there she was digging!
I ran up to the house and alerted the rest of the gang and when I came back Jacob Hill and Tera were working with her.
She was an olive ridley, who can sometimes nest in the afternoon or morning. They are much smaller than leatherbacks and more numerous. As we watched about 30 people came around. Watching her dig and lay was fascinating in the light of day. Every time she contracted, the edges of her right flipper would quiver and then the eggs would drop. Jacob Hill counted. I think there were about 68 or so...can't remember, but more than the leatherbacks. He also put in a thermo-coupler so the nest could be monitored. Tera is researching them for her masters.
As she lay, she began to get hot. You can see the pink flush under her neck. Towards the end of laying, she would raise her head like you see here. In the beginning it was down. Her eyes were closed the whole egg-laying time until she began to cover, then she opened them. I was intrigued how far forward they were because I had in my mind's eye that they were more sideways looking. Kim says they are built for when she comes up for air, she sees the horizon.
This ridley had not been tagged yet so you can see Tera crimping a tag on to her right shoulder. She did it after the girl had finished laying and was starting to cover. Tera had to squeeze the crimping tool as hard as she could. The turtle did not flinch or seem to respond to the process.
The Year of the Rabbit turtle heads back to sea. She booked it.
Six of us walked silently in the soft light to the truck, 4 jammed in the cab and 2 in the back for the drive to South and North beaches. Super bumpy in the back so that is not where I chose. Ventanas started out on foot through the hatchery access and headed north to the serene and dark beach. A smaller bay is marked by much less light there and rocks that cast shadows. I told James the night I went I felt uneasy. It is an interesting feeling;even more why that occurs. He said he felt safer there than around people. We talked about animals and people fears...
Tera, Julianne and I were on our nightly patrol. We were on North. I had never been on North before. There had been a lot of action here in the past nights. I think 3 turtles had come up here. I was excited to be with Tera, who runs the station because she is good company and knows a lot since she has been here for several years and worked with turtles around the world. I was also excited as the odds for seeing a leatherback on this beach were higher than the others. We drove through the dark corduroy roads for about 10 minutes until we got to the middle of Playa Grande. We didn't see any nocturnal animals along the way.
Out on the beach with not much bioluminescence and a warm breeze, we began our walking. It gets easier every night. The first nights are hard but with each night a flow begins to develop. We walked for only about 25 minutes, when I saw in the distance a darken path of sand that positioned itself from the water to the dry sand...turtle tracks!! So much emotion flooded me that I almost cried. My lungs had to breathe deeper for several breaths.We walked closer. It was a leatherback! The spotters were already there up in the sand. We did not see them at first. We radioed to the people on south to let them know we had found a turtle. Michelle was in the south group and had not counted eggs which she wanted to do. Would we trade somebody? We discussed. Julianne ended up trading because she had spent some time down here before and has seen a lot more turtles than I. The south group was pretty close so they hurried and arrived quickly. Michelle and Julianne traded, then Paula, Jacob Hill, fellow Tarheel and researcher, and Julianne headed back down south to see what they could find. Tera checked the turtle and spoke with the spotters. Tera is fluent in Spanish. It is fun to hear them speaking Spanish. Actually most of the researchers can speak quite a bit. I can order food and ask a few questions and greet people. I am learning fast. The people here help you.
The turtle, fondly named Bootsie and Jacob Hill's favorite, was a returnee, but not one of the first six. I think she has returned somewhere around 7 times. Jacob will know so I will ask him. Bootsie is so named because her left hind flipper is shaped like a boot rather than a solid flipper. Her carapace at the very base is also gone. Something must have happened when she was young. Her boot made it a slight tad harder to scoop when digging because when she scooped sand a bit would fall out of the flipper (where the arch would be).
Picture taken from the internet. Not Bootsie. (http://www.wayfaring.info/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/leatherback-sea-turtle-eggs.jpg)
There were also a group of tourists who were radioed to by the spotters and you could see a dark mass of people approaching. Tourists pay a bit to have the opportunity to see the nesting turtles. They are lucky if they get to see one...just like us.
We waited about 30 feet away from the turtle. She had dug her body pit and was beginning to dig the nest. The researchers and spotters are very respectful of space initially when the turtle starts her process. But when she is halfway through digging and begins laying, then the people come and stand, but behind her so as to not disturb her. Tera began checking her tools. She checked the scanner. It didn't work. She put in the spare battery, and it was spotty. She quickly radioed Jacob and he came back with his group and brought his. Then they went back to sweeping the south.
The leatherback had halfway finished digging. Tera could tell by the nest depth. Then Tera dug a pit behind Bootsie for Michelle and she snuggled in with the counter in one hand and her head lamp on. I waited in the shadows with the scanner in my hand and the tape measure all neatly rolled in my pocket. The egg laying started. I got to come up and watch. Every time Bootsie would contract her flipper, an egg or eggs would drop. There were some Americans in this group, and I was able to tell them a little more what was happening and how leatherbacks nest. I felt empowered that I was able to share my new-found knowledge.
Tera gave me the signal and we went up to the side of Bootsie. Again, my adrenaline began to pump... more than usual. The energy around and in my body created a strange and unusual feeling. I was in a different realm. It felt surreal. We decided she should scan since the scanners were sort of iffy. Tera scanned her right shoulder and I recorded the 7-8 digit number and checked the return box. Then Tera scanned the other shoulder and I recorded that one and checked return. Tera had also noted the time and date when we first arrived. The data collection is important and interesting. It is written on water-proof paper. Next, Tera showed me how to brush the sand off of her back so that we could get an accurate measure. It gave me the opportunity to feel the smooth, firm black skin. There were no barnacles to cut me at all. To touch this huge reptile and kneel beside her stirred something inside of me...what I do not know. Turtles throw a lot of sand around when they body pit so there can be a good amount. Tera showed me how to feel around her neck where her soft skin met the rubbery carapace. I put the beginning of the tape here. Tera pulled it taut to the back, then I recorded in the book 129 cm. Tera showed me how to feel down the side edge of Bootsie's carapace. I could tell where the place was that was the widest. Tera went to the other side and we measured. I can't remember that number. But Bootsie was quite a bit smaller than the one I had egg-counted the other night. (She was 149 cm)
Bootsie stopped laying. Michelle stopped counting. Bootsie began to fill the nest. I was amazed how both turtles I saw used the weight of their bodies to tamp down the sand hard. And I mean really hard; they pack it. This took a while. Her process of covering the eggs is very thoughtful and purposeful. She takes her time tamping and covering, and then disguising. The tourists and we are not able to see her whole process. The tourists have seen a leatherback laying. We have to get going in case one has started laying somewhere else or a nest is hatching.The spotters stay until they "escort" her down to the water. Meanwhile, Michelle backed out and the counter stood at 57.
Since Jacob Hill and his group have gone southward and have covered some of our sweep, we start out northward. We continue up the beach to see what else the night or the beach will bring. Michelle and I especially recall the experience and Tera easily joins in. The encounter is thrilling and hard to keep quiet about.
We radio Jacob Hill and check in. Researchers constantly check-in to let each other know what is happening. Usually groups time it so they take the break together. We reach the hatchery and sit in chairs and have a snack. I eat some leftover chocolate croissant from the German baker who comes in a truck about twice a week. Tera eats a sandwich. Chewing my last bite, I remember I haven't cleaned my hands since touching Bootie. I hope I don't get Samonella. I talk to Tera about this and now figure out why she washed her hands in the surf after the nesting! I watched her do it but couldn't figure She figures I'll be all right. I think to myself, oh well,m what happens, happens but I would have liked to have thought it though a little faster!!
Friday, February 4, 2011
Leatherbacks lay from 55-85 eggs. The average number is 57. They come ashore 7-8-9-10 times a season to nest. The visits are 9-10 days apart. When they are not here, they are just about 50 miles out. Research has shown that there can be up to three males that fertilize the eggs...so three possible fathers, so to speak in a group of hatchlings. She mates at the beginning of the season and is able to store the sperm in her body until she is ready to lay. The survival rate of the hatchlings is only around 54%. Bummer...must be a reason, though.
A good book entitled Sea Turtles by James R. Spotila is a beautiful resource. He is one of the principal founders of this station and all that it researches and does I believe.
I have seen 2 sets of two hatchlings that were excavated two days after the nest first hatched. I excavated one nest yesterday. We put them in a bucket of wet sand with something over the pail to shade them and released them at night so they have a better chance of survival. The wet sand and shade revived them a bit. We took them down to the water's edge a make them crawl a short distance (guessing 30 yards) to get their muscles moving. Michelle says they start out just at the dry sand. It took them about 20 minutes or so, depending, to be in the water and swimming.
They crawl "fast," say the researchers, whatever that means! ??
There were many "cool" things about counting eggs: watching the eggs drop, feeling her contractions, being soooo close, watching how she could use her back flippers to dig so well (she never touched the side of the hole!), and being present at a "birth!"
The ideas you gave about adaptations are right on: front flippers for pushing through water and ridges and smooth skin for aero/water dynamics. I don 't know about the small head. Her mouth definitely has super amazing adaptations. In fact, all of her adaptations seem to be incredible. I only hope that she can be flexible for us human so she can rebound!
This is the next sign.I can see that it is too small. I have tried to fix it but so far, no go. I am learning about Adobe as I go.On the bottom of the sign you can see all that you can't do! Here are the close-ups. Baulas means leatherback en español.
I have told you several times about light, but did not elaborate. Turtles cannot see the red wavelength of light. It does not penetrate down to the depths at which they live. Because of this, people use red lights so that the turtle does not see any light. The regular white lights have been shown to confuse hatchlings so they cannot find the sea, and it also prevents females from coming ashore to nest.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Tonight it seems balmy. We have discussed the difference between balmy and muggy and couldn't figure the diff. I think maybe muggy has more wetness. Anyway, warm and more clear than last night.
James knows all kind of stuff. We have talked about galaxies some and our own, the Milky Way. We talked about ocean currents and how and why they move. When I mentioned that it was warmer James said it was because the tide was coming in. Because the water is warmer than the land, it brings with it a warmth. Playa Ventanas is a very gradual beach. When the tide comes it, it just smoothly rolls toward the land. You do not have to dance and jump around so you don't get wet. It is very different than the south where you are have to be on your toes if you walk near the water's edge.
Next James told us about how the huge wind currents in the oceans work. It is how the sun hits the water and causes it to warm in one place or another.I will have to ask more because it not totally clear in my brain. And then the water currents...the sun heats up areas and then this causes upswellings of nutrients which causes the gyres. We talked about this because of the bioluminescence. James said in December that when the waves broke the whole beach was lit up. And when the water came ashore, it was like sheets of light. He said it was bluish green and quite unbelievable. It was the plankton that created the light. I am having a hard time relaying his awe. You could tell it was something!
We walked as fast as we could. As we walked Avalon asked who was counting eggs and who was measuring and scanning. I was the counter. She went over with me what I was going to do. She was going to go behind the turtle and scoop me out a body pit so that I was right behind the turtle. All of my weight was going to be on my belly. She drew a line and I had to stay behind it with my body but should stick my head over it so that I could count the eggs. I would have to be careful not to push any sand into the nest. Next. I would wrap the cord attached to the counter in my hand so that I would not drop it into the nest by accident. We were not going to put thermo couplers (thermometers) into the nest because in a month the season is over, the researchers go home, and there would be no one to monitor the nest. When she stopped digging, I was to put my hand under her flipper and lift it up so that I could see to count the eggs.
So we walked a few more minutes. Then we got close. Michelle and I were told to wait near the water. Avalon went up with the turtle spotter (a person who spots turtles so the tourists can come see them) and surveyed the situation. Then she came back to me and said we were ready. She took me up right behind the turtle. I made the body pit just right for my body because I was going to be lying down for 20 minutes of so. Time flew by so I am not sure how many minutes went by actually. Then I was a foot from her flippers behind this massive prehistoric looking creature!
Her nest was already about 2 feet deep. She used her back flippers exquisitely. While she rested on one flipper, she used the other to scoop the sand out. Then she would switch. She did this for about 10 -14 more times. I was sweating and breathing hard. I was so excited and nervous. Tourists came around me and sort of stepped on me to get a closer look. They had an English/Spanish translator talking to the tourists. 15 tourist get to come per turtle. All at once she stopped digging and just let her flipper hang there in the air over her nest.
Suddenly three eggs seemed to fall out of her body and rolled to the bottom of the nest. I quickly counted and put my hand under her flipper to move it away a bit so I could count and people could see. She did not want to move her flipper . I pushed hard and she finally gave a little. She would press her flipper against my arm while her egg-laying muscles contract, then the flipper would quit pushing against me and either 1,2, or 3 eggs would come out. Then she would contract and push against my arm, then release and then the eggs would come. It was very rhythmical. She laid 53 eggs. Then she started laying the SAGS, the little ping pong size egg cases. She laid about 20 or so of them. I did not count them . Then she laid a few more eggs...56 in all! Finally she started covering up her nest. We left because we had to sweep the beach in case another turtle came up. I did not get to see her go back to the ocean. Apparently she spends about 20 minutes disguising the nest so you cannot tell where the nest is.
While I was counting eggs, Michelle took the scanner and scanned her right shoulder. She and Avalon measured the carapace. First they had to clean sand off of her back. They measured 148 cm lone and 104 cm wide!! Michelle said her skin felt very velvety. I thought it was very smooth, too. I could feel the bone in her flipper. There were barnacles on her skin.
It was quite a night. I will never forget it. So close to this animal and experiencing such a primeval event.
We'll see what tonight brings...
Sweep sections:Playa Grande is divided into the northern and the southern end. At the northern end of Playa Grande is Playa Ventanos. Each sweep is about a mile long as best as I can figure. These are the 3 areas that we patrol. Each section has markers along it that are about 50 m apart I think. When a turtle is spotted she is given an approximate location...25.7, for instance. Last night I was on the south patrol which extends from midway of Playa Grande south to the mouth of the estuary of the Tamarindo River. We have to drive a truck to the starting point for the south and north patrolers. That's fun in itself. Only see cats on the road, nothing else of interest.
Note: If you like numbers, walking, turtles, the stars, and have curiosity, then you would like this. I cannot remember all of the numbers that are thrown around. I will do my best.
Last night Michelle, Avalon the researcher, and myself started out at 11pm. It was darker last night than the night before. There was some cloud cover. I thought it was a little muggy. The ocean was calm. The bioluminescence was just incredible! Avalon was a wealth of information. She said it was the algae who were putting on a show. The brilliance of the white just stole your eyes when you looked out. The waves were one long continuous roll...maybe about several hundreds of meters long. The best ocean performance so far.
As best I can figure there are about 6-7-8-9 nests that are due to hatch within a few days on our stretch. They are both olive Ridleys and leatherbacks. At the farthest southern end Avalon checked the nest that we had checked about 8 times the night before. There was one hatchling on his back, not moving. There was another with his head just barely visible in the sand. Avalon flipped the baby over and then it just flipped back. She did this for several times. Either one flipper was stronger than the other or it was our red light. (more on light later), Avalon thought it was our light. We turned them off except when absolutely necessary. The researchers measure the first 20 out of a nest. They measure carapace length and width and the head width. Avalon measure and Michelle recorded. After that, Avalon prodded him very very softly once or twice and we got him moving toward the water. I put out light just in front of him in hopes that he would go toward it. He did. . .After a bit of stopping, starting, flipping, he got going. Next Avalon walked around with her light to count how many tracks she saw leaving the nest. She thought about 10...so 10 hatchlings had already gone.
Next we saw another two heads popping up. Go to the copyrighted URL and see what that looks like.
Avalon measure these when they emerged and Michelle recorded. I can't quite remember the exact scenario. In all we saw 4 emerge and make it toward the water. We did not stay to watch them get there as we had a make another sweep.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
major huge...the one last night measured 142 cm from top to bottom of carapace...tail and head not included.
Survival rate: without the present people intervention 1 out of a 1,000 survives. That used to be enough to keep the population going. Now it is not enough. They are critically endangered.
Here are some stats. I think leatherbacktrust.org has some, too.
In the 1980s: 200 leatherbacks a night would come ashore to nest
2010: 106 nests for the whole season!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There are 29 ladies who are the layers. They usually come every 3 or 4 years. In that season that they come, they return 8-9-10 times throughout the season and lay from 50-90 eggs. Or something like that. The hatching rate is 57% for the leatherbacks.
ok....you have not guessed what tracks were outside of the hatchery....
It is a mammal, 4 syllables, and rhymes with Bay of Fundy.
The Daily Grind:
11am: breakfast: fruit plate of banana, pineapple and papya, fruit drink (I like the blackberry con leche)-fried or scrambled eggs, bacon if you want it, rice and beans.
12:30-6:oo: nest excavations, class, blogging, estruary trip tomorrow, usually a swim in the ocean, and then sleeep until dinner. You order dinner at breakfast so it is ready when you get here at 6.
6:00 dinner: rice and beans with chicken, mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, fish, shrimp, hamburger, pizza, mushrooms. somewhat regular cooking, but most comes with beans and rice. You eat luzano with it which is like a mild flavorful hot sauce.
7:00 sleep until the night patrol. Tonight is 11pm-5:45am!! It is tiring at the end. You carry water with you. You walk and walk, then rest at one end of the beach, wait 20 minutes and retrace your steps. Hopefully, after 20 minutes a turtle will have come up or a nest will have hatched. Then rest for a spell, and go back again. You go for one mile, then rest. At the rest stops sometimes you fall asleep for ten minutes. It is very dark-no moon and no lights. I have NOT seen a turtle yet., The researchers assure me I will.....I hope so....I will be bummed if I don't.
I am at the station with 7 other volunteers like me and 7 biological researchers who live here. I am staying in a room with 4 bunk beds. It reminds me of going to overnight camp…when you arrive you don’t know anybody but after a few hours everybody knows every body else and you are having a great time.