Five weeks ago today I was sitting sleepless in my room in Kitchener, ON, Canada thinking about what my summer was about to turn into. Wondering, if I packed too much or not enough? What would the food be like? What would the station be like? What sort of adventures would I get myself into? Would I miss home being away for most of the summer? Now with only one week left, most of my questions have been answered. Yes, I packed to much; the food is normal, and good. The station is campy and now feels like home and I got into a lot of crazy adventures I could not have begun to imagine. The last few days and the week we are heading into are shaping up to be quite eventfull.
I missed my morning census on Friday to go do botany with Mario. Josh and Leah came back and said they had seen a single set of hatchling tracks heading to the ocean. They dug up the nest but decided to leave it incase more hatched out. Saturday, I was not scheduled for morning census but decided to go anyway because I missed Friday and have not been able to go out with Leah very much. I struck lucky with this decision because where the hatchling tracks were the day before we saw a few more. It was very difficult to see because it had been raining and the tracks were very light on the sand but luckily Leah and Lauren noticed them. We decided to dig up the nest again and see what was happening.
I should go back a bit and explain; When hatchling tracks are found protocol is to follow them back to their origin. Because most eggs should hatch around the same time, you can be pretty confident that the remaining eggs did not hatch or that some of the hatchlings are trapped in the nest. The protocol at the station is to excavate all recorded nests and do a report on the nest. This data can give us a minimum survivorship of the nests; reasons for the lack of success, and more.
So, we dug up the nest and took all the eggs out. We believe that this nest was likely drowned. It would have been below the high tide line at some point and the eggs often cannot survive this flooding. Digging the hole was an adventure in itself. I don’t know how the turtles do it. The walls kept breaking down and filling our hole. Leather backs are the largest of the turtles so the nest turned out to be 110cm deep which means most of our bodies were in the hole by the time we got to the eggs. Leah and I took turns digging and then removing the eggs. We had to determine what stage of growth they were in when the nest failed; which means we had to break open all the eggs and report what was inside. Most of these eggs were well developed with a good shell and developed limbs and only a small amount of yolk left, making them stage three.
The experience was new and fun, but somewhat disheartening. Seeing that so many of the eggs did not survive was difficult. Being able to be part of the excavation and inspecting the deceased baby turtles was to some maybe grose; but I found it an extremely interesting learning experience.
That same night I was on night patrol. We had barely been on the beach 30 minutes when we came upon a turtle emerging. We stopped in our tracks and waited, sitting still so we wouldnt disturb her. My glasses were fogging up but looking at her through the blur I could tell something was odd about this turtle. After a good cleaning and a minute to look clearly I realised this turtle was missing its front left flipper. This turtle has no left flipper! It was a surprising sight, but inspiring to see this survivor turtle strugle her way up the beach. She got about 4 meters out of the water and for unknown reasons turned around and headed back to the water. We acted fast and Leah, who was on tagging duty that night, was able to tag the one front flipper she had left.
After that exciting and strange sighting we knew we were in for a good night, we all felt it. We made it all the way to mile 3 1/8 and back most of the way with out seeing anything. At about 3/8 we came across an uptrack. When we reached the nest site there was no turtle but there were two dogs hanging around and a nap sack sitting on the ground. We knew the turtle had been lifted. This is always a saddening sight, knowing that an adult turtle has been poached. Andy heard something farther back in the vegetation. We turned on our lights and went to check it out. We found the turtle! She was flipped on her back about 10 meters back from the nest site. We all went into first aid, rescue mode and went to help her. We removed the ropes they had tied around her front flippers and flipped her right side up. She was very stressed but not injured. She was thrashing around a lot when we found her; when we started working on the ropes she calmed right down. I felt like she knew that we were there to help her. After all that we were still able to tag her and make sure she got safely to the ocean. It was quite a thrill being able to save a turtle like that. After such an eventfull night, it was a little difficult to calm down enough to sleep.