Monthly Archives: April 2013

Red Rockette’s tag is back!

We have Red Rockette’s satellite tag back! Our friends who monitor sea turtles on Bobalito Beach, Colombia, found her—even though we had lost contact with her satellite transmitter.

“Just as we were getting ready to intercept this turtle her tag appears to have stopped transmitting,” wrote Canadian sea turtle expert Dr. Mike James to the project coordinators for Bobalito beach at the beginning of April. “What bad timing! 9.5 months of tracking, and then a few days before the best chance of getting the tag, no more locations!”

Nonetheless, with faith in the value of human persistence, the team at Bobalito continued their search. Lilian Barreto Sánchez from Conservación Ambiente Colombia Foundation rounded up extra beach monitors to help look for Red Rockette. People who had motorbikes and lived nearby helped transport the monitors to various parts of the beach so that they could increase their search efforts. The beach monitors used walkie-talkies to keep in touch with each other, but struggled with reception “gaps” over large sections of beach.

The Colombian team continued to patrol the beach for weeks. Every email from Lilian reported that they hadn’t seen Red Rockette yet, but that they were determined to find her. They were determined even though they were searching (on foot) a stretch of beach more than 10 kilometres long; even though there was no guarantee Red Rockette would come back to Bobalito beach again; even though less than a handful of leatherbacks had been recorded nesting on Bobalito so far this year.

And they found her.

“It was amazing!” Lilian wrote. “We are happier than I know how to say.”

“This is a remarkable international achievement,” says Mike. “It’s really worth celebrating. It was amazing that we were able to coordinate a search for this turtle with this group despite the language barriers and the great distance separating us, and even after the satellite tag had stopped.”

It is this kind of international cooperation—and just this kind of grassroots persistence—that we need to conserve endangered leatherbacks.

Lilian is scheduled to make the trip back from Necoclí, the community near Bobalito beach, to her home in the city of Bogotá today. She is going to call us when she is there, so we will have more details to share soon.

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On the beach

HatchlingPerspective

With our satellite turtles near the nesting beaches, we are thinking a lot about the conservation programs taking place on those beaches right now. Jessica Bradford, who spent time volunteering to help sea turtles at Caño Palma Biological Station in Costa Rica last fall, kindly agreed to write about her experience for us:

The stretch of beach I was working on is known for four species of sea turtles: leatherback, loggerhead, green, and hawksbill. They are all endangered or critically endangered animals. While I was in Costa Rica, I saw green and hawksbill turtles. In attempts to protect and learn more about these species, volunteers are responsible for conducting night and morning beach patrols.

During night patrols, we would find adult female turtles emerging from the sea and observe their activities. If they selected a nest site, we would stay with them until they returned to the ocean. Once laying eggs, we counted them as they dropped into the egg chamber and recorded nest location data. This doesn’t disturb the turtles because they go into a trance when laying. When finished, the turtle is measured, tagged, and checked for abnormalities.

Although these massive, ancient animals aren’t incredibly graceful on land, it was fascinating to watch them emerge from the sea under moonlight and engage in the same reproductive behaviour they have for millions of years. Some turtles would be covered in bioluminescent algae and you could make their carapace illuminate by touch. I feel lucky to have shared such experiences with these beautiful animals.

Morning patrol consisted of monitoring the beach for turtle activity from the prior night. We were also responsible for excavating nests two days after hatching, meaning we would dig up a nest and count the number of hatched / un-hatched eggs to determine nesting success rates.

Excavation3

Sometimes, we would find straggler hatchlings that didn’t make it out of the nest. During my first excavation, we found 26 hatchlings. We took them closer to the water and let them run along the sand to where they belong – the ocean. The chance of survival for hatchling sea turtles is pretty slim. Every time I came across a tiny hatchling, I felt I was helping to increase those chances just a bit.

HatchlingWater

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Disappointment

Inspire’s transmitter has stopped working. She is officially offline now. This is particularly frustrating because she came so close to the nesting beach. We had hoped we could follow her until she nested. There were so many colleagues helping us in Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico—ready to find Inspire if she hauled ashore.

“I’m convinced that the transmitters are coming off because these leatherbacks are mating. The male turtles likely knock them off—or damage the antennas—when they approach,” says Canadian leatherback expert Dr. Mike James.

We know that leatherbacks mate near the nesting beaches. And we are glad that the turtles we tagged seem to be mating—this is exactly what a population of endangered species needs.

But we’re still disappointed to have lost contact with Inspire’s satellite tag.

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