99. Ramie's Sea Turtle Adventures

Monday 10/10- Hey everyone it's Ramie. Monday is here so that means I have my volunteer job at the animal sanctuary. I wish I had some exciting news to report about that but it's been rather uneventful there lately. I will say though that the animals are really starting to get to know me and enjoy teasing me. Raul the toucan likes to sit on my bucket as I walk around his enclosure and when he gets tired of that he will fly by my head and hit me with his wing. The spider monkeys like to blow kisses at me, the macaws enjoy a game where I push a stick through a drain hole while they tear it apart and make laughing noises. Mocha the sloth likes it when I hand feed her a piece of food. It's all entertaining to me and I'm sure to them. I also found out that on a day Dana doesn't have to work she can come with me and help out. She may be up for some up close animal encounters.. We’ll report back after that happens to give you all the fun details.

I get to go on my first night walk to search for nesting turtles for my other volunteer job with the turtle sanctuary tonight at 11pm. Even if we don't see anything I figured it would still be pretty cool to walk the beach at night and maybe see other wildlife. Tonight I would meet up with one of the other full time volunteers and 3 tourists who were joining us for the experience. We started our moonlit walk along the beach somewhat explaining to the tourists what it is we are looking for, once that explanation was done we didn't talk at all because the turtles are skittish of noise and light, and may not crawl out of the water if they hear or spot us. We walked and walked and walked some more. It was a pretty uneventful 2-½ mile walk to the end of the beach where we barely spotted some tracks. We followed the part of the track that we could see and spread out to search some more, and finally found the body pit (the indentation left in the sand after the turtle covers the nest with sand). We used our sticks and started poking in the sand looking for the nest. It took us quite a while to find the egg cavity since this momma hid it so well. We gathered the necessary information from the site, loaded the eggs into a bucket, and started our way back toward the parking lot since it just happened to be right at the turn-around point.

Just about half way back we spotted some more tracks.  It looks like a momma turtle had made her way up onto the beach after we had passed by the first time. I would say it had been close to an hour since we walked past this point. We were unsure if momma was still there, so carefully & quietly we followed the tracks that led right under a mangrove tree. Oh my! She was still in the process of laying her eggs!  How cool is this!?! My second time out and I actually get to work with a live momma turtle.

Me and Cycy (the other volunteer) started by taking measurements of her track. Once that was done, Cycy tried to dig a hole in the sand under her and into the nest. Her hope was to be able to collect the eggs as they dropped. Just as she reached the nest, momma was done. We let momma lay her eggs undisturbed before we started to bother her to do what we need to. Once momma starts to fill in the nest and get it mostly buried and packed is when we start our process of measuring and tagging or recording tag numbers if the turtle already has been tagged. Cycy looked on her front flippers for any tags and there were none, so she gathered the tagging supplies and asked me to get the measurements. This was more of a challenge than I expected. You take two measurements of the turtle’s shell. The first is from the base of the neck to the base of the tail, the second is the widest part of the shell which is just behind her front flippers.

Momma turtle was still in the process of burying her nest so she was flipping sand into the body pit and then would raise her body and drop onto the sand to pack it. Since she was under a mangrove tree (which grow very bushy & low to the ground), I had branches to deal with and a turtle that was not holding still. Oh and all of this only using a red head lamp, so visibility was a bit difficult. Turtles are very sensitive to white light, which is why we only use the red. At one point I was laying on top of her, kind of like a turtle rodeo.

Sea Turtles are extremely strong, she was lifting me up and down and proceeding to turn around at the same time. I eventually got both measurements and I didn't get my fingers squished under her in the process. Once I had the measurements, Cycy showed me how and where to tag them. They use two tags with the same number, one on each front flipper in a specific location. She tagged this one, but I'm sure I’ll get to do the actual tagging next time. Once that was done we GPS located the nest and proceeded to dig out all 123 eggs. While Cycy was gathering the eggs, I was able to snap some pics. Sorry they are so dark but it was for the turtles safety. 

Slowly filling in her nest

Done! Time for me to get outta here
On her way back to the Ocean
The 3 tourists watched her crawl her way back into the ocean, which took less than 5 minutes. We gathered everything up and finished our walk. The tide was coming in quickly and I was soaked by the time we made it back to the cars. I finally made it home at about 2am. Cycy still had to go and bring the eggs to the nursery and record some more information. Her last message to the group was close to 4am.  She had started her evening originally at around 7pm the night before and walked a different beach prior to the walk she did with us. Who knows, maybe someday I will be doing the same?

Wednesday 10/12- It's been a couple days since my last beach walk and today I'm heading out for an early morning walk. It's 4am and I have to meet the group on the beach at 4:30am. We had the choice to go out at 1am just after low tide, but the majority of the group wanted to sleep in and chose to walk just a few hours before high tide. It was a hellish walk! The recent storms have caused a lot of debris to be washed down the rivers and into the ocean, littering the beach with entire trees, sticks, coconuts and so much other stuff. My ankles and shins took a beating from all of the floating stuff that would smash into them, and you couldn't see it coming because of the murky water. Any signs of tracks would have been washed away from the waves, so we had to look for the body pit or what remained of it. 

As a quick reminder, the body pit is the location that the momma turtle had dug up and laid her eggs and then covered-over again with sand. It can be quite large and very different depending on the type of turtle. We made it all the way to the end, where the majority of the nests had been found this mating season and had not spotted anything. A few of us were fast walkers and we had to wait for the rest to catch up. We took a break, talked about how difficult today's walk was and that maybe it would have been better to go at 1am. Once we were all rested we started our walk back and I spotted what appeared to be a body pit.

The rest of the group had walked right past it. I called out to a couple of the others and they came and looked and were very surprised that I spotted it. It had been mostly washed out from the waves. They told me to go ahead and check it, so I grabbed a stick and within a few pokes I found the egg pit/nest. I started digging and lo and behold, there was a temperature difference in the sand. A couple more handfuls of sand and I found the eggs. The group was impressed that I spotted the nest. A few of the seasoned volunteers even mentioned they totally missed it. I'm 3 for 3, on my walks, but I know that will not last. We had a new volunteer with us today so I taught him what had to be done with the nest and he was super excited like I was to dig out his first nest, he lost count, but thankfully I was counting for him at the time (I don't recall the exact number but it was over 100). The rest of the walk was wet and we were starting to get better at dodging debris. 

I did three walks in a short time, and I realized that I may need to reevaluate when I'm going out. My sleep pattern is all messed up, but I really enjoy the late night walks. I’ve got some other things to do, so I’ll wait to go out again until next week.

Pura Vida!


  1. How big was the turtle you measured?

  2. If I remember correctly it measured close to about 30" for its width and 50" long, but gotta keep into account the curvature of its shell.


Post a Comment