It is one month now that I live at Caletas, walking about 10 km every night in the search for turtles go tag and eggs to protect. Here are the latest news and some new impressions:
Turtle activity has been highly fluctuating. Again, there were a few nights with no activity at all or just one or two nests, and crazy nights with up to 20 events (which were mostly nests and very few unsuccessful nesting attempts). Especially the last couple of days showed high turtle activity, which was partly foreseen by our turtle prediction master Melvin 😉 However, as we cannot predict the exact times the turtles will come ashore and patrol shifts cannot cover the whole night, we have been missing a few nests which we then lost to raccoons before morning census took place. Sometimes, turtles are totally unpredictable and come ashore within the only three hours which are not covered by night patrol shifts, during the most drastic low tide (which is kind of surprising as turtles are said to mainly come ashore during higher tide levels). For those reasons, the predation rate moves around 40 % at the moment, while the poaching rate is under 10 %! Despite all those dangers, we have been transferring 7 to 8 nests to the hatchery these past nights and the hatchery is filling up quickly. With such high activity levels and the amount of perfectly intact nests we keep finding, it is not sooo bad after all to find a depredated or poached nest.
We had a few heavy rain- and thunderstorms at night, and in two of three cases, turtle activity culminated in the nighttime hours just afterwards. However, turtles can also come up in the rain, thus we are supposed to go out on patrol as long as it is “only” raining like shit. Night patrols in the rain are not fun at all! Especially since everyone of us brought rather affordable rain clothing which is not good enough to stand a one-hour tropical downpour. We get wet, cold and frustrated. And in these cases, you pray for some lightning and thunder so that it is “too dangerous” to go out, and you can go back to bed without a bad conscience 😀
I tried to get a good picture of a nesting turtle – which is difficult because of the limited red light usage, confusing camera settings and the fact that two people on patrol are both busy with collecting the eggs and measuring and tagging the turtle.
These videos, however, should keep you all satisfied for a little while – enjoy!
By now, we have 62 nests in our hatchery!!! And you need to consider that we started just 20 nights ago to relocate nests. 62 nests is more than I ever have seen in a hatchery within just a few weeks time – it is more than you would get in Malaysia during a whole 7 months-season. And consider that it is still about four weeks until we expect our first hatchlings! I cannot imagine yet how crazy the hatching season will be – with up to ten nests possibly hatching in the same night: that could be one thousand babies we need to release at once, and ten excavations the day after. To me, it really seems like a hatchling factory. In busy times, relocations need to happen quickly and I feel like a factory worker indeed. No time and no need to handle every single egg super carefully and treat it like the most precious thing in the world, making sure that it does not move at all and is safely placed inside the artificial nest. While in Malaysia, relocating a nest comes close to a rare holy ritual, here it is the most common thing in the world. That does not mean that the whole process loses its charme and its “specialness”. Not to me at least. And by the way, the two other Turtle Trax hatchery projects only count a couple of nests so far – everyone is impressed and nearly shocked by the drastic expansion of our factory. It seems we are doing well, I would say: nearly too well 😮
Our hatchery counts 200 squares in total. For now, we have been putting nests in every second square so that there is one free square left in between, which (1) gives us space to sit and stand somewhere while doing our work, (2) ensures that nests do not affect each other (e.g. if a nest shows some kind of infestation, let it be fungus, maggots, bacteria, whatever…) and (3) prevents that the generated metabolic heat of each nest heats up neighbouring nests. Leaving sufficiently space between nests in a hatchery is crucial for those reasons, and this is what I have learned over all those years. The more surprised I was when I found out that we will finally fill up all of the 200 available squares – so once we filled up the hatchery in the first round (means 100 squares or all the white squares of a checkerboard), we will start filling up the squares in between (means all the black squares of a checkerboard). This system is very surprising and new to me, and I’m still wondering where we are supposed to walk, stand and sit once all sand underneath our feet contains turtle eggs which do not like to be trampled on. Considering all my concerns regarding the possible risks and disadvantages: having nests so close to each other but in a protected area still means a higher hatching success than having dozens of nests unprotected on the beach because the hatchery is full. And after all, it might just not be viable to construct a hatchery as big as a soccer field.
CAMP LIFE AND OTHER THINGS
There is not really too much to say about camp life – it is very quiet, sometimes funny, sometimes social, sometimes boring. Now that the hatchery is up and running, all there is left to do are some minor camp chores during the day. The rest of the day is spent with reading, lying in the hammock, playing games, sitting around and talking, enjoying the beach, “swimming”, baking and cooking, playing around with the abundant hermit crabs and other creative things. Yes, sometimes I feel terribly bored. I am not the person who can read a book for five hours in a row, I barely manage five pages a day before I fall asleep or look desperately for another form of enjoyment. Also, I cannot take afternoon naps as many other people. All the more I enjoy the times when we all sit in the Rancho, listen to music, have some deep, stupid or funny conversations and are all well entertained. After four weeks of living together, I started to notice a certain degree of positive craziness which has developed in all of us and gives us some great moments together. Night patrols can be fun and give opportunity for great conversations and getting-to-know-each-other-better, whereas sometimes we just go along silently, trying to not fall asleep as no one of us knows what the hell there’d be to talk about.
I’m getting along very well with the rustic living conditions and I am actually very very glad I do not live in the comfortable project houses with fans, a cook and internet on the other beaches. Yes, Caletas is definitely the right turtle camp for me! And if I ever feel the urgent need to escape the wilderness and to go swimming in calmer waters, I just need to hike for one hour over a hill to the neighbouring Playa Coyote – isn’t that easy? 🙂
The weather has been better as well. “Better” means: more cloudy and windy days. Apparently, the climate has been exceptionally dry over the last few years and the rainy season isn’t as heavy as it used to be. We are just at the start of the rainy season and most days are indeed without a single raindrop, but as long as the turtles come ashore anyway I don’t care about the missing rain: it just means less patrols in the rain and less wet, forgotten clothes on the washing line the next morning 😉
One thing I have on my wishlist though are more male volunteers! Where are you, you strong, nature-loving, survival-skilled, charming guys? I know that sea turtle work is mostly something for girls – but the few guys which do sign up seem to choose the other, more comfortable and less adventurous Turtle Trax camps. Come here instead! We need you to carry up buckets of seawater to the toilet, to get water from the well, to transport the drinking-water containers into the Rancho, to build some useful wooden structures, to help repair this and that (and mostly a clogged toilet), to avoid Melvin going crazy with 10 english-speaking girls, and to create a different, more diverse camp atmosphere.
Time has passed so quickly! While the days seem to be endless and I keep catching myself waiting for dinner and the adjacent night patrol from 3 pm onwards, time passes quickly when I look back now and realize it has been one month already. I hope I can collect a lot more pictures together with turtle and camp stories over the next few weeks. I am happy, and I hope all of you are as well.