I am back home. My month of fieldwork was very productive. After a year of analysing data in the office, it was great to spend time out in the field again. I saw many turtles, released countless hatchlings, and set up important experiments. The data I collected will further consolidate my research about climate change and sea turtle conservation.
On this blog I will keep you updated about my research. I still have a lot of stories, pictures, and videos to share. If you have questions about my fieldwork, my research, or about sea turtles in general, please get in touch. I am more than happy to answer your questions!
I wish to take this opportunity to thank everyone that made my fieldwork possible and so enjoyable. First, I want to thank the Alasdair Downes Marine Conservation Fund and the Society for Experimental Biology for the funding that allowed me to carry out my research. I also want to thank everyone from SOS Tartarugas, particularly Jacquie, Neal, Berta, and Albert for their unconditional help and support for my work and research. I wish to thank all the SOS rangers, monitors, and volunteers that helped with my data collection. Special thanks goes out to Genaye and Marcos for their help with my experiments. Finally, thank you all for reading my posts, it was a pleasure to share my work with you!
Thank you to the 2014 team!
(photo courtesy of Jacquie Cozens)
It happened again: a nest in the hatchery emerged during the late afternoon! This is a rare occurrence as hatchlings usually emerge from their nest during the night.
Shortly after we finished two nest excavations in the hatchery, there was movement at the surface of a nearby nest. The sand was moving as if magically. Then, a little turtle popped his head out of the sand. He was soon followed by another, and then another. 62 little turtle hatchlings soon emerged from the sand and scattered out of the nest.
We collected all the hatchlings and brought them to the beach. We released them at the top of the beach and watched them all run energetically towards the sea. It was a really fun sight!
One of the rules of SOS Tartarugas is “Never leave a turtle alone”. The reason for this is that you want to make sure the turtle nests safely and returns to the sea safely. If you leave a turtle alone, she may be taken by poachers who are waiting for such an opportunity.
Poachers occasionally try to take turtles from a beach that is patrolled by SOS Tartarugas rangers. If they see a turtle while the rangers are patrolling a different part of the beach they will come out from behind the dunes where they were hiding, go to the turtle, and take her behind the dunes. They try to do this before the patrol comes back. Fortunately the rangers can usually tell what has happened when they return as they will see turtle tracks going up the beach, find no turtle, but discover a drag mark (if the turtle was flipped on her back and dragged) or deep footprints (if the turtle was carried) instead. By following the clues and catching up with the poachers they can then save the turtle.
Luckily, poachers are non-confrontational and will usually run away if you see them. They know that what they are doing is against the law and that we have the support of the national police and of the military.
Before SOS Tartarugas was established in 2008, the dunes around the island were littered with dead turtle shells and remains. Dozens, if not hundreds of turtles must have been killed every nesting season. Now, thanks to the combined efforts of SOS Tartarugas and the Cape Verdean military, all of the main nesting beaches of Sal are patrolled nightly and this makes it increasingly difficult for poachers to take turtles. So far this year, the number of turtles successfully taken by poachers on patrolled beaches is only six. This remarkable diminution of the number of turtles killed on Sal is a credit to the hard work the rangers carry out night after night throughout the entire nesting season.
It is possible to adopt sea turtles at the SOS Tartarugas Conservation Centre. You can adopt individual hatchlings, entire nests, and adult nesters. Of course this is a symbolic adoption and you do not get to take the sea turtle home with you, but you would be surprised of how many times I have been asked things like: “What should I feed my baby sea turtle when I am back home?”
For example, if you adopt an adult nester, you can choose a name for your turtle and will receive a personalized Adoption Certificate. Your turtle will be tagged and you will receive her unique tag numbers. Every time your turtle comes ashore you will be informed by e-mail and will receive relevant information such as if she nested and how many eggs she laid!
If you are interested in adopting a sea turtle you can visit the SOS Tartarugas website. Adopting a sea turtle is a very nice gesture and can be a special present for a loved one! It is also a great way to show your support for the project and the conservation of loggerheads in Cape Verde.
Next to the SOS Tartarugas hatchery is the SOS Tartarugas Conservation Centre where guests can learn about sea turtles and the conservation work taking place on Sal.
I personally really enjoy talking to people about sea turtles, their conservation, and my own research. When someone shows interest, I always seize the opportunity to share interesting or fun facts about turtles. I also think it is very important for people to know the plight of sea turtles in the modern world we live in.
Tagging turtles is a common practice in many sea turtle conservation projects worldwide. When you find a turtle that has never been observed nesting before you tag her flippers with small metal tags so you can identify her if you see her again. This simple practice allows to gather a wide variety of information on the turtle and its population. For example:
- Do turtles nest every year?
- Do turtles nest more than once in a season?
- Do turtles always nest on the same beach?
- How big is the local turtle population?
- How far do turtles migrate?
This season I already tagged 4 new turtles. It is great to think that despite tagging turtles since 2008, SOS Tartarugas are still discovering new nesters every year!
Yesterday I went on my first patrol. When dusk set in, I was ready to go to the beach: my bag was packed for the night, my official SOS Tartarugas t-shirt was on, and my head torch was ready.
SOS Tartarugas patrol beaches all over the island of Sal. The turtles no longer nest on the beaches close to town because of light pollution from streetlights, bars, and hotels. As soon as it gets dark on the island, groups of rangers head out to the different beaches on the island. Last night two of us went off to Costa Fragata to patrol the beach.
As we were walking down the main road on our way to the meeting point a group of kids ran up to us saying “Tartaruga! Tartaruga! Há uma tartaruga na praia!” – there is a turtle on the beach! We followed them and sure enough, there was a turtle on the beach preparing to nest! I have seen turtles nest hundreds of times by now, and yet, each time I’m amazed as if it were the first time. And I was not the only one to be excited: the group of kids stayed with us for the entire nesting process.
This turtle’s carapace measured 86 cm in length. Add a head and a tail, and you get a majestic animal over a meter long! She laid 67 eggs, covered up her nest, and returned to the sea. Let’s hope that she will come back again soon!