Our Tuesday started with a 6am departure for turtle surveys. There is only instant coffee and most of us volunteers haven’t adjusted to it, so it was a very quiet early morning trek. About half an hour of hiking up hills, down the other side and skirting the tides along the beach, we found what we came looking for. A beautiful Hawksbill sea turtle was pushing her way up the beach, searching for the perfect spot to lay her eggs. We all found seats crouching behind a tree and watched as she explored. While concentrating on staying quiet and still, a second Hawksbill emerged from the tide and made her way up the beach.
Sea turtles have very limited vision and if objects are not moving they have difficulty distinguishing objects. To this mamma sea turtle we must have appeared to be trees or rocks because she made her way right up beside us, crawling over our feet and legs, pushing backpacks to the side until she found her perfect spot to nest, dead center in the middle of 6 volunteers sitting as still and quietly as possible. As she began to dig she flung dirt and sand in every possible direction and we struggled to hold in laughter as we became covered in dirt. For over thirty minutes she dug and we struggled to remain still and silent until she was happy with the egg chamber she had dug and began laying. Once a female sea turtle begins to lay eggs she enters a trance-like state, so while this mom was busy we also got to work.
We measured the length and width of her shell, we check her for any injuries and we insert identification tags into the fatty areas of her flippers so we can keep track of her health and laying locations. Next, we take measurements, triangulate and record the location of the nest so that we can find it later. At 70 days, after the turtle hatchlings have left the nest, we will excavate the area to count the number of eggs not hatched and rescue any little ones who couldn’t quite manage to crawl out of their nest alone. Once all of the serious work is done we sit back and watch in amazement as this mother turtle lays eggs with only 1 in a 1000 chance of surviving to adulthood. After she has finished laying she begins to cover her eggs back up with sand and camouflage the area so no predators can find the nest. At this point she is no longer in a trance-like sate so we gather our things and take a few steps back to give her space. After she was happy with her camouflaging she turned and headed back towards the sea, this mamma may lay eggs up to 5 times this season so if we are lucky we might get to see her again. Her somewhat awkward movements on land turn into beautiful graceful strokes once in the water and in mere seconds she disappears from sight. So, all in all, the early mornings and hikes in which none of us feel like we have ever sweat so much in our entire lives are more than worth it.