Monthly Archives: January 2015

You think you know

2015_01_30

So if this were a race to the nesting beach, you might be inclined to think Christie is going to win it.

I’m not so sure.

Look at how Asha is starting to head south. (I feel like I’ve said that before, and then Asha has just turned back north again, but I think this may really be her, heading south!) She might surprise you.

But the biggest surprise of all may come from Beverly, who has been—well generally surprising anyway. She’s still far, far north of where we’d expect to find her at this time of the year. But you just never know with leatherbacks. It could change really quickly.

Christie, for example, who has been following the more traditional path of “Canadian” leatherbacks, may just decide to stop and hang out off the beaches long enough for one of those other two turtles to make it in to nest ahead of her.

Not that it’s a competition.

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Jairo Vive

Jairo weighs a hatchling leatherback. In 2012, according to The Tico Times, Jairo and his colleagues on Moín Beach saved 1,474 sea turtle nests. In 2013, poachers stole the eggs from all but eight. Photo: Christine Figgener, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Jairo weighs a hatchling leatherback. In 2012, according to The Tico Times, Jairo and his colleagues on Moín Beach saved 1,474 sea turtle nests. In 2013, poachers stole the eggs from all but eight. Photo: Christine Figgener, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sometime after 10:30 p.m. on May 30, 2013, Jairo Morra Sandoval was murdered on a Costa Rican beach. Jairo, who was 26 years old, protected leatherback turtle eggs and was killed for it by a particularly violent group of poachers.

This week, the seven men accused of his murder were acquitted. According to the Costa Rican newspaper The Tico Times, “In her closing explanation, a visibly angry Judge Yolanda Alvarado admonished prosecutors and the OIJ (Judicial Investigation Police), citing fundamental and troubling problems with the investigation and the prosecution’s presentation as the key reasons they could not reach a guilty verdict.”

The Tico Times outlines the “delays and blunders” in the trial in this article. Both this piece by The Tico Times and this piece in Outside Magazine give background on the story.

This story is distressing and sad. Jairo had been working with sea turtles since he was a little boy. He released his first leatherback turtle hatchlings when he was six. He was on the front lines, trying to keep leatherbacks safe. As the beach became more dangerous and after the local police force cut back their security detail, Jairo used to call his mother for a blessing before he went on patrol.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve stood in front of groups of people and listed off “poaching” as one of the threats to the survival of leatherback turtles. People stealing the eggs, which are worth about $1 each on the black market.

But it’s hard to explain what it takes to stop it. I think of my friend Suzan Lakhan Baptiste of Nature Seekers who stood unarmed on Matura Beach in Trinidad, staring down poachers with machetes, ordering them to stay away from the leatherbacks and their eggs. Now virtually no leatherbacks are poached on Matura Beach anymore.

Canada is in a unique position when it comes to leatherbacks. Turtles from the nesting colonies throughout the Caribbean come to Atlantic Canada to feed on jellyfish each spring, summer and fall. I often say that we’re like the United Nations for sea turtles.

Jairo died on Playa Moín—on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The Atlantic side. Canadian turtles nest in Costa Rica. Jairo died protecting animals that could very well have been “ours.”

Graffiti outside of the Limón court where seven men were acquitted of Jairo's murder. Photo: Courtesy Lindsay Fendt (@LEFendt)

Graffiti outside of the Limón court where seven men were acquitted of Jairo’s murder. Photo: Courtesy Lindsay Fendt (@LEFendt)

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This week’s map

The turtles are staying their courses. Beverly is a little bit further east. Asha continues to meander in and out of Canadian waters. And Christie is motoring south.

When we found Christie, she had flipper tags from Trinidad. Flipper tags are small metal tags that sea turtle researchers attach to turtles’ flippers as a way of identifying the animals. The tags have a code made up of numbers and letters on one side (ours start with CAN for “Canada”) and the research group’s mailing address on the other. Given her nesting history, we expect Christie is heading back to Trinidad for this year’s nesting season.

Beverly, too, had flipper tags from Trinidad. I wonder if she’ll eventually turn south to get there?

2015_01_15

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Where to?

2015_01_09

Most turtles are thousands of kilometers south of where we initially satellite tagged them by now. Christie is an excellent example of this. She is the classic post-foraging (feeding) season “Canadian” leatherback.

Asha and Beverly, on the other hand, are a different story. These tracks are anomalous. Asha actually recently briefly popped back into Canadian waters! She’s just about 500 kilometres from where we tagged her at the start of August.

“It’s not behaviour we’ve ever previously observed in leatherbacks that have just finished a foraging season in continental shelf waters off Atlantic Canada,” said Canadian sea turtle expert Dr. Mike James. “What we’ve observed with these two turtles is more akin to what has been observed for turtles departing nesting beaches in the western Atlantic.”

If you click here and also here, you will find the tracks of leatherback turtles that were satellite tagged on nesting beaches in South America and the Caribbean. Some of them travelled through the same area Beverly is in.

“Asha and Beverly are effectively staying at high latitudes, at least for now. But although these are northern waters, they are not cold because they are under the influence of the warm Gulf Stream current,” Mike continued. “The edge of that current represents a dynamic, productive environment where the turtles are clearly finding prey. It’s possible the turtles may even over-winter at high latitudes within the influence of the northern edge of the Gulf Stream; however, at this point, it’s really too early to tell. Either turtle would still have plenty of time to head down to Trinidad or one of the other nesting colonies and nest this season.”

I wish you could hear the precise note in Mike’s voice as he talked—a combination of “Hmm, why doesn’t this fit the pattern?” and the exciting, “Hey! This doesn’t fit the pattern!” crossed with a dose of extreme, infectious curiosity.

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