Friday, May 23, 2014

Turtle Watch

Last week we went on a Turtle Watch for the first time.  This has been on my "Bucket List" for years and I was very excited to think that I may be allowed to witness this amazing event.  Luck was with us as we arrived at Levera beach on the northeast coast of Grenada just as a Leatherback turtle was making her way on to the beach!
No white lights or flash photography is allowed so it was difficult to get pictures but here are a few.
This leatherback turtle is approximately 5 feet in length and when she spread her flippers her "wingspan" was 6-7 feet.  Our tour guide thought she might weigh 800 lbs.  The turtle, not the guide!
Leatherback turtles have been on earth since the dinosaur age but their numbers continue to decrease and they are endangered.

Red flashlights illuminated the turtle for us.  What you are seeing here is the back-end as she is digging the hole to lay her eggs.  She digs with her rear flippers until she has a hole approximately 1 foot in diameter and 18 inches deep.

This turtle built her nest too close to the waterline so the researchers picked up the eggs as the turtle laid them and placed them in a bucket.  They had already prepared a new nest higher up the beach for the eggs.

Here's the researcher placing the eggs in the nest.  There were 84 yolk or fertilized eggs as well as a number of unfertilized.  They were approximately the size of a billiard ball.

In this picture, there is a researcher on the right holding a hypodermic needle as he gets ready to tag the turtle.  In the foreground is the turtle's huge front flipper.
The turtle then begins the laborious task of burying the eggs, pushing sand back with her front flippers and packing it down with her body.  She doesn't know that her eggs have been moved to safer ground.  The process of digging the hole, laying her eggs and then burying them takes several hours and she is exhausted but she's not finished yet.  She moves away from her nest and begins to dig again, creating a fake nest in the hope of fooling predators. 
At this point her exhaustion is great and she has difficulty just moving her huge body toward the sea.  She lumbered down into the water and eventually disappeared below the surf.  We were told that she would return again in about 10 days to lay more eggs and would lay eggs several times over the breeding season.  We found ourselves just standing there on the beach, not moving, in awe of what we had just witnessed.
One sobering fact; researchers believe that only 1 in 1000 leatherback turtles live to maturity.