Tag Archives: Devan

Trip to Trinidad

This is the second part of Kayla Hamelin’s journal of her time working on the nesting beach with leatherbacks in Trinidad last spring. Kayla is the CSTN’s coordinator of conservation and educational outreach. You can read the first of her impressions of Trinidad here.

Notes from the Field (Trinidad, Part 2)

Everyone is incredibly friendly and welcoming here. Our meals at the guesthouse are prepared by local women, and the food has an interesting blend of Indian, Caribbean, and other flavours that reflect Trinidad’s diverse cultural history. Plus the food is tasty and hearty—perfect for field-work appetites! We have bonded with the children who spend time at the guesthouse during the day. I am affectionately called “auntie” by one in particular. We play games, and “Angry Birds” on my iPhone is a popular request. Considering how different this place is from anywhere else I’ve lived or travelled, it’s surprisingly easy to settle in and feel at home.

On our second night on the beach, we had a special task: training some of the Nature Seekers staff to deploy satellite tags. These are the same types of instruments that we have used to tag and follow Beverly, Asha and Christie. Instead of deploying them from our field boat and remotely following the turtles to the beach, we would like to do the opposite—have them deployed on a turtle here on the beach (ideally one with a history of coming up to the Canadian foraging grounds) so we can follow her in her post-nesting period.

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Learning how to satellite tag a nesting leatherback turtle.

Turtle scientist, Mike James, and CSTN turtle technician, Devan Archibald, introduced the team to the equipment at the Nature Seekers office and then demonstrated how to set up the tag on an actual turtle that night on the beach. The training was successful and our tags are in good hands with the Nature Seekers. Now it is just a matter of waiting for the right turtle candidate: ideally a “CAN” turtle. The C-A-N code on a turtle’s flipper tags indicates she was tagged by us in Canadian waters. We might even find a turtle with a Canadian connection during this trip and be able to take part in the tag deployment!

We have worked with a good number of turtles so far and have been happy with the progress of our work. We have also encountered an adorable possum by the edge of the forest; watched bioluminescent microbes flash their blue-ish light as we disturbed the mats of seaweed on the beach that harbour them; and taken a “snack break” to sip coconut water straight from the fruit. I can’t wait to see what the coming days (and nights!) have in store.

 

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Beach snack!

 

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Trinidad, Day 2

[Note: We had inconsistent Internet access while we were in Trinidad, so I was unable to upload my blog posts. I will run them a day at a time this week instead.]

 

We saw dozens of turtles last night. It was amazing.

At one point I stood near the edge of the water in the darkness with three enormous leatherbacks emerging from the surf around me simultaneously. The white roiling water swept over the black masses of their bodies as they inched their way slowly up the beach.

I was alone at that moment. Devan, Mike and Scott were walking further down the beach looking for turtles.

I had to will myself to stand there in the starlight.

I was overwhelmed.

Leatherbacks have been doing this for millions of years. Millions.

It was something to be there, the wind off the water whipping loudly around me, watching. Being blessed by the primeval.

We walked the beach for eight solid hours last night. We checked the flipper tags of every turtle we saw, but we found no Canadian leatherbacks.

Maybe tonight.

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Trinidad, Day 1

Photo on 2014-05-29 at 6.40 PM

This is my view right now. It is early evening, there is a rooster crowing, there are birds chirping (somewhere there are parrots!), and I can’t wait for the sun to set.

We are at Matura in Trinidad. I’m here with Devan, our CSTN turtle technician, and Canadian sea turtle expert Dr. Mike James. A film crew from NHK Enterprises in Japan is working on a leatherback turtle documentary. They have invited the CSTN to be part of it, and the first segment they are filming takes place here.

We were delighted to have the chance to come back to Trinidad. Mike and Devan were here last year with the wonderful film crew who made the Nature of Things documentary. I haven’t been here since March of 1998. This is the beach where Dr. Scott Eckert first trained Mike and me to satellite tag leatherbacks.

Scott is here, as are our friends from the Nature Seekers. (We will meet up with our friends up at Grande Rivière later in the week.) And very soon, when it starts to get dark, we will head to the beach to see the nesting leatherback turtles.

We’re searching for “Canadian” leatherbacks. If we find them, we will satellite tag two of them and hopefully get the first complete track of a Canadian leatherback turtle from the nesting beach to the waters off Atlantic Canada. We tried to do this with Peggy the turtle last year, but she was caught in fishing gear within a few weeks, and didn’t make it north.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen a nesting leatherback turtle. I’m a little nervous, like you feel before you meet a friend you haven’t seen in years. Everyone is getting ready around me. Scott just appeared in the hall dressed in field gear, carrying his giant blue backpack. Mike and Devan are across the way doing yet one-more-check over the scientific equipment we need tonight in case we put out a tag. The film crew is already at the beach.

I need to turn on the light to finish this post, so the sun is almost down. Turtle time!

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Sea turtles in snow

I was home, ready to start dinner when the turtle hotline rang. One of my favourite people was on the phone. John Angus MacIntyre works in the Conservation and Protection Office in Port Hood, Nova Scotia. John Angus is always kind and funny. He is also smart and resourceful. Things get done when he’s involved.

“Believe it or not, we’ve got a turtle for you here, Kathleen,” he said. “Down on the beach at Baxter’s Cove in Judique. I’m just here now at the house of the guy who found it. It’s dead.”

Judique is a good three hours drive from Halifax where our office is. I looked out my kitchen window. Snowflakes were drifting down in earnest.

“I’ll go out and have a look at it and make sure it won’t get washed away in the tide. Then we’ll help you deal with it in the morning. I’ll call you first thing,” he said.

It was dark by this time and freezing cold. The wind by the shore would be sharp and bitter. But John Angus collected his camera and drove to the beach—long after his workday should have ended. Within a few hours, a set of photographs appeared in my inbox. They were of a loggerhead turtle, its body encrusted in snow and frozen sand.

This isn’t the first sea turtle to wash up dead in the winter. There have been several over the years. The photographs are truly Canadian—a real reminder that we work with these animals in a place that is radically different from the places they inhabit in the south.

Devan_loggerhead_CThe loggerhead is now in the back of our field truck. This is a picture of it with Devan, our turtle technician. The turtle is a juvenile and, as you’ll notice, it has been dead for a while. The skin has worn off its head, parts of its flippers are missing, the bone on its shell is exposed in many places. But it is still something quite amazing to see.

The loggerhead’s next stop is the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where our friend and colleague Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust will perform a necropsy (which is like an autopsy) to determine its cause of death. Our best guess now is that the turtle died of hypothermia. We’ll keep you posted.

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