* WARNING - This post is incredibly picture heavy.... I couldn't narrow them down!! *
The Carate satellite camp was established so that there was a brief period (3 weeks) in which a group of volunteers could focus exclusively on turtle conservation. This involved both beach patrols and hatchery/nest predation prevention work. The two beaches we were working on sadly experienced high levels of human nest predation which meant that it wasn't really safe to patrol the beach at night - so we only ran morning patrols. Although less likely to see turtles on the morning patrols, they're just as important because they provided us with data about how many turtles had come up the beach the night before, whether they'd successfully laid eggs, some indication of what species of turtle had been about and also information about the size of the turtle.
Morning patrols left at 5:15, so alarms went off at 4:15 to give us time to have breakfast/pack bags etc before heading out. It sounds (really) early, but because we're in bed not long after dark, I still got plenty of sleep! My first patrol was on Wednesday morning, and I absolutely loved it. Its hard to explain the sense of excitement you get when you see turtle tracks for the first time - even without seeing the turtles themselves, just knowing that they were there is incredible. Whenever we found tracks we recorded the following information: the sector (all beaches we worked on were split into 'sectors' of 0.1km), width of the tracks, whether the tracks were symmetrical or asymmetrical (which gives an indication of the species) and if the female was successful in laying eggs, or if it was a 'false crawl'. Female turtles are incredibly picky about their nesting sites, and they often dig several holes before they find a satisfactory nest site. If the turtle had nested then we recorded the distance of the nest from the sea, and also from the vegetation. All of the data we collected was fed back into an international turtle database to try and improve global understanding of their nesting behaviour - which was really rewarding because it actually felt like we were contributing to something 'bigger' that had wider significance.
The other work we did was centred around protecting nests and maximising the chances of eggs hatching and the young surviving. On Wednesday afternoon we walked down to one of the eco-lodges by the beach - a place called Finca Exotica. There we were introduced to the local turtle conservation programme Cotorco and a woman called Phoebe Edge, who devotes her life to sea turtle conservation. Listening to her talk about the work she does was truly inspirational - I have a lot of respect for people who dedicate their lives to their passion like she has. She spent an hour or so chatting to us about all things turtle & then we wandered down to start work on turtle meshes. The name is a bit misleading, they're more like grids than meshes - made out of bamboo and held together with wire. They're placed over nests to prevent dogs digging the eggs up, which is a really serious problem - particularly on beaches where dogs are just allowed to roam free. Mesh-making was hot, hard and itchy work. Sawing through bamboo, splitting it with machetes and then tying it all together - but we soon got into a rhythm and started making them up pretty quickly. Such a simple idea, but it really does make the world of difference!
Thursday morning was spent clearing the hatchery of vegetation ready for it to be used this year. Nests that are considered 'vulnerable' will be moved to the hatchery for the incubation period and then returned to the nest site just before they're ready to hatch. Its really important for baby sea turtles to make the journey from the nest to the oceans by themselves - they pick up chemical cues from the sand that then enables them to return to the same beach when they themselves are ready to nest. So each time a nest is moved, the position of the nest is recorded and the hatchery is divided into grid squares so the eggs can be returned exactly where they were initially laid. Once the hatchery is up and running, there is a community initiative which pays local people to 'guard' the hatchery - thereby discouraging poachers and encouraging local people to make an income from protecting turtles rather than exploiting them. Its a fantastic example of community engagement in conservation work and it seems to be working excellently.
On Friday afternoon before we headed to mesh-making, one of the local guys (Fernando) took us on a walk for no particular reason. It was ridiculously uphill the whole way - the kind of uphill where you need your hands to help you up. By the time we'd finished climbing we were level with circling vultures and the views were absolutely incredible. Rainforest and ocean was all I could see.
Saturday morning it was time to leave! Time was odd the whole time I was out there, each day seemed to last forever but the weeks absolutely flew by. I know that makes absolutely no sense, but its just how it worked. Okay?!
If you have any questions about sea turtles then please feel free to ask!
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