Margaret nests!

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It was almost 4 a.m. when my cell phone rang. We had been up late following Margaret’s tracks over the previous few days, so I was sleeping soundly. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. It was Stephen Poon, from the wildlife division of the government of Trinidad and Tobago, on the phone with the great news that Margaret was, at that moment, nesting. The team from Grande Rivière had seen her as she hauled up onto the beach and were waiting until she had begun laying her eggs before they removed her transmitter.

Dr. Mike James, our scientific advisor, talked to Nicholas Alexander from the Grand Rivière team shortly after Margaret was finished her nest and had returned to the sea.

“Your turtle looked great!” Nicholas said immediately.

One of the things I love about sea turtle people is how they intuitively know—amongst all of the things that there are to talk about on an occasion like this—what is most important: How was Margaret herself? Because as critical as the data and the transmitter are, it is the turtle we care about the most. And Nicholas, with years of experience observing leatherbacks on the beach, was an excellent person to judge.

Next, Nicholas assured Mike that the transmitter was also in good shape. Stephen Poon would make sure we received it. At some point soon, we hope we will also get photographs of the event. (I’ll post them as soon as we have them.)

Margaret laid her eggs, covered up her nest, and headed back out to sea. She’ll be off in the ocean for another 10 days and then will come back to nest again—about eight times in total this season. With luck, the team at Grande Rivière will see her again, allowing us to hear a little bit more about our girl—and to know that she’s safe out there.

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One for the turtles!

On the days when we look and look for leatherbacks at sea and come up empty, or those times when we miss catching the one (or more!) turtles we do see, I’m often oddly satisfied. It’s better, certainly, when we are able to do as much work as possible at sea. It’s incredibly frustrating and sometimes demoralizing when the days slip by and there is no leatherback to show for all of our effort.

But there is something I like about the turtles evading us. There is something that makes me feel safe about nature out of our grasp—even when we are trying to help.

We have been watching Margaret’s movements carefully as she navigates along the north coast of Trinidad. You can see them in these maps. (You’ll note some of the positions show up on land. This is because there is a margin of error in each of the good quality locations we get of up to about 500 metres.)

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We are transfixed by the patterns of positions that pop up over the hours her tag is transmitting. And we are puzzled. Other leatherbacks we have tracked zeroed in on their beach and nested directly after reaching the coast. They haven’t done what Margaret is doing. For three nights she has returned to nearshore waters directly off Grande Rivière beach; she may even have crawled out of the surf zone a few times, but we’re pretty sure she hasn’t nested yet.

Margaret, no doubt, knows just what she’s doing. But we are unsure. Not in a worried way yet. But in a good, curious, what-on-earth-is-she-up-to-and-why way. I wish we knew exactly. It’s like an itch you can’t properly scratch.

It’s that space where we realize that although we’ve learned a lot about leatherbacks over the last fifteen years of our work, there is still so much that is mysterious about them. There is still so much we discover as the hours pass.

Maybe tonight Margaret’s return to Grande Rivière will finally culminate in a nest, or maybe she’ll keep us guessing.

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Still near coast

The team at Grande Riviere did not find Margaret last night. We have gotten new hits in the last hour from her tag showing her just 3 kilometres west of Grande Riviere beach. We’re still waiting to see what she’s going to do…and compulsively checking every few minutes for new data!

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Maybe Grande Riviere tonight?

A few minutes ago we got a good-quality satellite hit from Margaret–she’s about 1.5 kilometres off the nesting beach at Grande Riviere! The team on the beach there is out in full force looking for her in case she nests tonight! Lots of excited calls and texts between the turtle teams in Canada and Trinidad. Stay tuned!

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Margaret Update

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Take a look! Margaret is just off the coast of Grande Riviere, Trinidad. If you haven’t already, take a second to guess when and where she will nest: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MKW8TZ6

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Margaret today

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Here is Margaret’s map from this morning. She’s not as close to shore as she was last night. She’s wandering a bit…pretty common leatherback behaviour.

For fun, we’ve put together a “When and where will Margaret first nest?” poll. You can participate here. People who guess correctly will be entered into a draw for a CSTN hat.

 

 

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Which will it be?

As of a few minutes ago, Margaret is approximately 20 kilometres from Grande Riviere beach and 40 kilometres from Matura beach. We’re really excited here. Scott arrives in Trinidad in a few days and our friends on the nesting beaches are on the alert. Maybe she’ll nest tonight. Or tomorrow. Or not. Leatherbacks are funny that way.

In great news, Margaret’s tag is sending good locations again.

I’ll post an updated map in the morning.

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Getting closer

As of this morning, Margaret is only about 100 kilometres away from the Trinidad nesting beaches! That means in four days she travelled more than 250 kilometres south towards Trinidad.

Mike, our turtle scientist, was talking to Scott Eckert last night. Scott is the director of science for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network, and he works with the Nature Seekers in Trinidad.  He reminded us that it is early for nesting in Trinidad and it may still be a long while before Margaret comes ashore.

Nonetheless, we are watching her movements carefully and keeping our friends on the beaches updated.

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The beeline

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Today there is good news and not-so-good news about Margaret.

The good news is that she is making a beeline for the nesting beaches of Trinidad. Check out this map.

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She left coastal Barbados three days ago, and look at how close she is to Trinidad already! The nesting season has already started there, although peak season is still about two months away.

2014_02_27_Map_TrinidadIn the Atlantic, mature female leatherback turtles do not nest every year. They nest every two or three years. During their nesting years, they will generally lay around eight nests, about 10 days apart. In 2011, Margaret was recorded nesting both at Matura and Grande Riviere beaches in Trinidad. We’ve contacted our colleagues who work on those beaches, and we will continue to keep them posted about Margaret’s location. We hope that they will find her when she nests and remove her valuable transmitter so we can deploy it on another leatherback in Canada.

The not-so-good news is that the quality of the locations we’ve received from Margaret’s transmitter over the past few days has not been good. I yelled “No!” out loud this morning when Devan, our turtle technician, told me that the last series of locations were  “B” class. B-class locations are the poorest quality, and generally indicate that only two tag transmissions were received by the satellite to calculate the turtle’s position. The more transmissions the satellite receives, the better its estimate of the turtle’s location.

A long series of B location estimates—especially over several days—can mean the turtle is spending very little time at the surface of the water. It can also mean that the tag is running low on battery power or has started to “biofoul.” Biofouling is when organisms like algae and barnacles colonize on the tag. This can negatively impact the tag’s performance.

This may mean that we will lose transmissions from Margaret’s transmitter altogether—even before she makes it to the nesting beach. (You may remember this is what happened with Jacquelyn.) It doesn’t mean, however, that someone won’t find Margaret on the beach anyway. Last year, dedicated beach workers in Colombia found our turtle Red Rockette after her transmitter had stopped working. It’s just a lot harder to do.

I hate when this happens just when the animals are so close to nesting! But at least we know where Margaret is heading. Stay tuned…

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Olympics

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Yesterday the Canadian women’s hockey team won gold at the Olympics. Today the men’s hockey team beat the Americans in the semi-finals. The mail carrier slipped into our office in the midst of the men’s semi-final game, looking for an update.

“How’re we doing?” he asked anxiously.

He didn’t need to say “hello” or to identify whom he meant by “we.” He didn’t need to explain his worried look.

“We’re up by one,” I assured him.

He nodded and then scurried to his next delivery address, where no doubt he’d get another update as the clock ticked down in the third period of the hockey game.

I love how the Olympics–at their best–build a sense of community within countries and between them.

They remind me of sea turtles.

Sea turtles, swimming through the political boundaries of so many different countries, will draw us together if we let them. We see it in our own work, as we track our Canadian sea turtles to nesting beaches in other countries. Rarely does a day go by when my email inbox doesn’t have messages from people in other countries–today, from Colombia, the UK, and the United States.

People working around the world to conserve sea turtles know that we’ll lose these species if we don’t work together. If we don’t give our work our best effort. If we don’t persist in the face of adversity. If we don’t support each other when we’re having trouble.

And we know the importance of celebrating our successes–of keeping our spirits up–of cheering each other on.

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