Supermoon Sand Dune – Turtle Watch 2011

The Turtle Watch Group

Its the month of March and the Start of the Turtle Watch Season 2011 on Union Island. On Saturday 19th many members of the Union Island Environmental Attackers, a local community based organization in  St Vincent & The Grenadines, were out in force.  Most had already dawned their headlamps, shoes, pants and dark clothing—they had done this before, and something had kept them coming back, you are about to find out why.

We arrived to the secluded path, at the crest of the hill leading down to Bloody Bay at around 10 pm.  Katrina Collins, President for the group led us in a prayer of safe return, Roseman Adams gave the requisite safety/conservation talk for the first timers of the group, and we set off down the trail.  The full moon peeked through the sparse clouds, shining so bright it cast shadows through the trees during our descent.  I’ve heard a lot about how the moon was very close to the earth at that moment—I believe it—Apollo held a spotlight over Union that night.

 

Our guest of honour could not have arrived with better timing.  After only twenty minutes on the beach, a huge Leatherback sea turtle bumped her way in on the surf.  The excitement in the group was remarkable.  At first quiet, still, tense—so as not to discourage her from

A Giant Leatherback

coming up.  Once Roseman, (who is a certified handler, and was on the front line of contact) identified her as a Leatherback, and saw she was settling and beginning to ‘body pit’, he gave the OK to come closer. I was finally witnessing one of these giants, lit by the moon, stroke her way up the beach, and start throwing sand around.  What a scene.

We waited while she pitted, wallowed, flung sand around, and finally settled on her spot.  Then, she began to dig.  With her hind flippers, which are about the size of a small dinner plate, she made her nest.  Each stroke resembles the most practiced and attentive of motions.  Like the hands of a surgeon, she dug a perfectly round pit, about 60 cm in diameter, and almost a meter deep.  We waited, with lights off, as she finished her nest.

 

I wasn’t expecting the switch to flip so fast: Roseman had described the trance state turtles enter while they’re laying—but these, the experienced watchers, resembled a conservation swat team as the turtle began to lay.

 

“Get ready..” Roseman said camly, his red light already trained on her caripace, several other red turtle lights glowing on the perimeter.“NOW! There’s the first one!”  Five watchers, with preassigned roles descended on the creature.  “Switch to white, and start the count.”  Two members of the squad, young, small, and comfortably perched on the side of the nest switched their headlamps to bright white light and relayed the count of blanks to the record keeper.  The blanks are infertile eggs, slightly smaller which are intended to insulate and protect the bottom, and top of the nest.  They are the first and last eggs laid.

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