Sunday, April 18, 2010

Trinidad Leatherback Turtle Nesting

The season for turtle nesting, or laying of eggs, is from March to July with the peak period during May and June.  Ken, the instrument advisor, his wife Sylvia and I drove up to Matura, Trinidad to try to see some turtles nesting on the beach.  People kept telling us that we probably would not see anything because it was too early but you really never know and we wanted to give it a shot.  The night could have not worked out any better.  After finally finding exactly where we needed to turn and reaching the beach, we joined a tour group that was leaving.  We walked right down to the beach area and over to a turtle that was in the beginning stages of nesting. 

The only time were allowed to take pictures of the turtle using the flash was when she was laying the eggs; so I tried in complete darkness and only seeing a little red from the guides lights to try to capture the entire turtle process.  The reason the guides use red light is because white light will distract and possibly disorient the turtle from the egg laying process but they have found no negative of using red light.  They can also use the red light to help guide the hatchlings to the sea safely.

Initially she was digging the hole to the correct depth to find the temperature of the sand suitable to lay her eggs.  When she gets her flippers swinging while digging the hole the sand flies fast! 
Once she finds the temperature she starts the egg laying process and lays about 100-120 eggs.
Just after she finishs laying is the only time to be able to weigh the turtle by using the tripod to lift her.  She weighs 839 pounds and is 154cm (~5ft) in length. 
(Weights vary between 600-1000 pounds & average length is 150cm)

After weighing the turtle then she proceeds to cover her nest with sand making the area all level.  After she finishes she may go anywhere from 2-20m away from her nest to make a decoy nest.  Our turtle went about 3m away.  That is the end of the egg laying process and she heads back out to sea.  She was a little disoriented with all the people who were standing in front of her but once we moved she seemed okay.  Leatherback turtles always have to keep swimming so they will travel around for hundreds of miles but they always manage to find their way back to the same spot where they were hatchlings themselves to lay their eggs.  Nature works in mysterious ways!

Ken named her Martha :-)
In ~60days her eggs will hatch and the little ones will make their way to the sea!  I hope to see that happening as well before I leave my assignment!!