Tag Archives: GCTR

Beverly nested!

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We were just checking the data records sent to us by our friends at Nature Seekers in Trinidad about the Canadian turtles they’ve seen on the beach. The records list many things, including the series of numbers on each turtle’s flipper tags.

And one of them was Beverly! She nested at Matura Beach at 11:48 p.m. on April 9.

Beverly was not wearing her satellite transmitter any longer, so she looked like any of the other nesting turtles there. But her flipper tags confirm it was her.

I have been lucky to spend time at Matura Beach myself so I have an idea of what it would have been like to watch Beverly lay her eggs that dark night, only a sliver of crescent moon in the sky.

But still I wish I’d been there to see that moment when she touched land again after thousands and thousands of kilometres and three solid years at sea.

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This is a photograph I took of a leatherback nesting on Matura Beach in Trinidad when I was there in May 2014. This turtle, like Beverly, came ashore after an incredible journey.

 

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Beverly

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It’s generally the time of year that we start to get very excited about our turtles heading to the nesting beach.

I had been, as you know, particularly curious about what Beverly was going to do. Beverly has been one of our most interesting leatherbacks. She has a nesting history in Trinidad that suggested she should have nested there last year. But as you may remember, she didn’t. Instead, she slowly looped eastward.

You can see from the map below that Beverly went south this year. Part of me was glad in that I-told-you-so kind of way. She’s doing what she’s supposed to do, is how I felt. She’s doing the thing that fits my human, scientific-box-of-a-Beverly.

I settled back, excited to follow her to the nesting beach at Matura.

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But then her transmitter stopped working. There are a number of reasons this might happen, but in this case, we think the cause was biofouling—when organisims like barnacles or algae grow on the satellite tag and prevent it from working properly.

So we have to wait to see what will happen next. Hopefully, our friends at Matura Beach in Trinidad will find her nesting there this year as she has in the past. They’ll recognize her either from the transmitter (if it hasn’t fallen off) or from her flipper tags.

Or maybe she’ll haul up on an isolated stretch of beach in Trinidad, where no one finds her and we have to wait for many years and many more nests to hear from her again.

The scientific part of me wants her to be found in the next few weeks. The part of me that likes happy endings wants this, too. The loop closed—from Canada to the Caribbean—feeding to nesting. A safe journey from one “home” to the other.

But then I remember, a few years ago, standing on Matura nesting beach myself in the dark night. The loud wind blowing clouds across the bright moon like dried fall leaves. The turtles hauling up out of the surf around me, slowly making their laboured way up the sand to lay their eggs as their species has done for millions of years. For millions of years.

And there is something I love about the idea of Beverly doing this away from our human eyes. Alone. Wild. It seems just like her.

 

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Riley and Lily Rose…and an update on our current turtle gang

Riley and Lily Rose have both been seen nesting in French Guiana! We’ve just heard from our friend Antoine Baglan, who manages the database for Association KWATA in Cayenne, French Guiana. (Antoine is also, incidentally, an amazing nature photographer.)

You know, of course, the story of Lily Rose, and why she is so special to us.

But do you remember Riley? Riley used to keep us up at night. She was one of the first Canadian leatherbacks that we tracked right into Cape Cod Bay, where she navigated the maze of fishing gear for many days. I remember Scott Landry, the director of Marine Animal Entanglement Response at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts, reviewing one of the daily Riley updates we sent and saying, “Wow. This just gets worse.”

But she thankfully got out and continued to swim down the coast of the United States. Riley was kind of like Beverly. We had tagged her as part of the Great Canadian Turtle Race, and she behaved differently from the rest of the turtles we were following that year. You can see her track below in red.

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And then after almost seven months of tracking, Riley’s tag stopped.

So we are thrilled to hear about her and to know that she is safe and nesting—and we are also excited to learn where she is from, which we didn’t know when we tagged her!

Below is an updated map on the turtles we’re following now. Beverly continues to entertain us with her track, looping around and down again now.

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Look how far Sharon has gone! I love seeing her zip past all of those islands. You can see this in more detail in this map:

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But it’s Christie we’re watching most closely now. She’s still in the nesting zone.

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Her current location is off Toco point, which is a busy fishing area and the place where we lost contact with Peggy. Let’s hope she pulls a Riley and makes it through safely.

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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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Lily Roses

Lily Rose was a leatherback turtle we satellite tagged in July 2012 as part of the Great Canadian Turtle Race. In February, we stopped hearing from her tag. We didn’t know for sure what had happened to the tag or our turtle. So you can imagine how excited we were to hear from colleagues in French Guiana, that Lily Rose was seen nesting twice this summer! A team from the environmental group KWATA found her. She was not wearing her satellite transmitter any longer, but she looked healthy.

Lily Rose was named in honour of another Lily Rose. Miss Lily Rose the girl was fighting cancer. She was diagnosed on her third birthday—just before we tagged that turtle—with stage four neuroblastoma, a particularly deadly disease. So you can imagine how excited I am to tell you that last week, our wonderful and beloved Miss Lily Rose was miraculously declared cancer free. If you’d like, you can click here to listen to her tell you herself.

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Neck and neck

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The tracks for Margaret and Jacquelyn are oddly similar. It isn’t strange that they are both heading southeast. That is relatively typical leatherback behaviour. But what we find interesting is that these two animals—randomly satellite tagged at different places and times this summer—just happen to be moving almost parallel to one another (although about 100 kilometres apart). If you look at these maps, which show the ten turtles we satellite tagged in 2012 for the Great Canadian Turtle Race, you’ll see what a variety of routes leatherbacks often take. I wonder how long our girls will stay near each other?

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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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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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Red Rockette wins!

In the early hours of this morning, Red Rockette nested on a beach in Colombia called Bobalito, near the community of Necoclí.

We are thrilled!

The first of the maps below shows her whole track—all the way from Nova Scotia to Colombia. The second is a closer view of her more recent positions in relation to the Colombian coast. The third—my favourite—shows her movements between 8:49 p.m. COT (Colombia time, which is 10:49 p.m. Halifax time) yesterday evening and 8:23 a.m. COT (10:23 a.m. Halifax time) today.

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This turtle, whose movements are being watched so carefully by so many of us, laid her first nest without encountering a human. And although there is something lovely about imagining her alone carefully carving out that nest in the moonlight, we want someone to find her next time. We want her satellite tag back!

Leatherbacks nest several times a season. Red Rockette will come back to land to nest again in a week or so. We are lucky to have help from our friends at the Conservación Ambiente Colombia Foundation (CACF). CACF supports a relatively new sea turtle program at Bobalito Beach. Community leaders from the village of El Lechugal—which used to poach almost all of the nesting turtles—launched a conservation program at Bobalito to protect the animals, engaging their community in projects like sea turtle monitoring and environmental education.

Thanks to our colleagues at CACF, the community had already begun patrolling Bobalito in anticipation of Red Rockette nesting—long hours of walking slowly up and down the many kilometers of beach. However, now that we know Red Rockette has nested on Bobalito once already, even more community members will begin patrolling the beach to increase our chance of finding the turtle next time.

It is difficult to communicate with Bobalito—there is minimal cell coverage and Internet access. But CACF is working hard on our behalf to establish a communication chain that will allow our updates of Red Rockette’s positions to reach the community quickly.

Now we have to hope for a couple of things: We have to hope that Red Rockette’s satellite tag keeps transmitting and we have to hope that she chooses to nest on Bobalito again. If she moves even a little to the east near the community of Mulatos the odds of finding her aren’t as good. The beach at Mulatos is very long and the sea turtle program there is only just beginning.

So now—again—we wait!

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On turtle time

This is the part where we feel like kids waiting for a birthday. When will the turtles nest? Today? Tomorrow? Three weeks from now? Our team is on alert, counting the days and hours between satellite uploads, texting and calling each other late into the night when the data comes in.

And all the while, Red Rockette is behaving in classic leatherback fashion, swimming around the nesting area, probably mating.

To be honest, it’s a bit frustrating.

Check out this map.

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There she is, super close to the beach on March 14. Then, she bounces out of the Gulf of Uraba a little on the morning of the 16th. We wonder all that day if she’s heading somewhere else, when she swims back closer to shore again that evening. We wait. Our colleagues on the nesting beaches—with whom we are in constant email contact—are prepared for her possible arrival.

Then when we hear from her again on March 18, she’s off again, away from the beach.

“This is completely normal behaviour,” says leatherback scientist Dr. Mike James.

Normal. And frustrating. And exciting.

Because in this world, where we have instant access to so many answers, there is something marvelous about being held in complete suspense.

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