Morning turtles

Sea turtles nest during the night when the temperatures are cooler. They come out of the ocean after sunset, which means that we only see them in the dark. In order to disturb them as little as possible we only use red light torches. Unfortunately, this means that what you see of the turtle is very limited.

Very rarely, however, you will find a “morning turtle”: a turtle that is still nesting after sunrise. This is when you get to see these beautiful animals in all their glory. I have not yet found a morning turtle this season, but I will share with you one of my fondest memories from my 2012 field season here on Sal.

I was out on patrol with a nice Dutch volunteer called Mara. We started our patrol at 1 a.m. on the secluded beach of Serra Negra, one of my favourite beaches of the island. The two of us had been monitoring turtle tracks and recording nesting activities all night and it had been a long and exhausting patrol. In order to do the work more efficiently I went ahead to record activities as Mara was recording GPS locations of other events.

And then, at the far end of the beach, in between rocks, I saw her: my first morning turtle! I was so amazed and excited that I immediately forgot how tired I was. I ran back to the other end of the beach at full speed to get my camera. Mara had no idea what was going on, but judging from my expression, I think she could tell that something special was happening. She quickly finished up her work and together we went to the turtle.

The turtle was covering up her nest. She was clearly tired and confused as her movements were very slow and she seemed to have lost her sense of direction. Trying to be as discrete as possible, we watched her as she tried to make her way back to the sea. The tide had gone out and exposed rocks were preventing an easy route to the water. She got disoriented in between two big rocks, but after a few deep breaths and a full 360° turn she finally made it out to sea. We watched her for as long as we could. Her head popped out of the water a few times before she disappeared underwater completely.

It was amazing to watch a turtle from so close by in the daylight. We could see the beautiful orange colour of her skin and her carapace. Needless to say, I took a lot of pictures that morning. I hope these pictures will give you an idea of how impressive and beautiful sea turtles are!

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