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.)
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.