Tag Archives: Matura

Trinidad Day 3

Canadian sea turtle team on the beach! Dr. Mike James and Devan Archibald at Matura in the late afternoon.

Canadian sea turtle team on the beach! Dr. Mike James and Devan Archibald at Matura in the late afternoon.

 

Tracks made by leatherbacks nesting the night before crisscross Matura Beach.

Tracks made by leatherbacks nesting the night before crisscross Matura Beach.

 

Sargassum carpeting swaths of Matura Beach.

Sargassum carpeting swaths of Matura Beach.

Walking across Matura Beach is like walking through drifted snow. You never know how far your feet will sink below you as you climb the uneven ground. In the pitch darkness of night, we fall down like kids.

The mounds of sand are records of big leatherbacks nesting. The turtles use their front flippers to create a body pit in the ground and then later to disguise their nest by throwing sand in all directions around them.

This year, Matura is covered in dense, black sargassum, broken off from the Sargasso Sea. It lays over the white sand beach in endless pillowy clumps. It reminds me of peat moss.

The only reliably flat place is in the hard-packed sand right by the water. There, however, even in places that seem above the tidemark, the ever-shifting waves can unexpectedly douse your sneakers.

We walked back and forth across several kilometers of beach, checking every leatherback we saw for Canadian flipper tags with no luck. According to our records and the nesting records the Nature Seekers have, there should have been a few Canadian turtles on the beach last night.

We looked for eight hours straight, stopping briefly under the stars for the delicious banana bread that Erica in the Guest House kitchen sent with us for a snack. We drove home finally at about 4 a.m.

Maybe tomorrow.

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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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Margaret nests!

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It was almost 4 a.m. when my cell phone rang. We had been up late following Margaret’s tracks over the previous few days, so I was sleeping soundly. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. It was Stephen Poon, from the wildlife division of the government of Trinidad and Tobago, on the phone with the great news that Margaret was, at that moment, nesting. The team from Grande Rivière had seen her as she hauled up onto the beach and were waiting until she had begun laying her eggs before they removed her transmitter.

Dr. Mike James, our scientific advisor, talked to Nicholas Alexander from the Grand Rivière team shortly after Margaret was finished her nest and had returned to the sea.

“Your turtle looked great!” Nicholas said immediately.

One of the things I love about sea turtle people is how they intuitively know—amongst all of the things that there are to talk about on an occasion like this—what is most important: How was Margaret herself? Because as critical as the data and the transmitter are, it is the turtle we care about the most. And Nicholas, with years of experience observing leatherbacks on the beach, was an excellent person to judge.

Next, Nicholas assured Mike that the transmitter was also in good shape. Stephen Poon would make sure we received it. At some point soon, we hope we will also get photographs of the event. (I’ll post them as soon as we have them.)

Margaret laid her eggs, covered up her nest, and headed back out to sea. She’ll be off in the ocean for another 10 days and then will come back to nest again—about eight times in total this season. With luck, the team at Grande Rivière will see her again, allowing us to hear a little bit more about our girl—and to know that she’s safe out there.

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Getting closer

As of this morning, Margaret is only about 100 kilometres away from the Trinidad nesting beaches! That means in four days she travelled more than 250 kilometres south towards Trinidad.

Mike, our turtle scientist, was talking to Scott Eckert last night. Scott is the director of science for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network, and he works with the Nature Seekers in Trinidad.  He reminded us that it is early for nesting in Trinidad and it may still be a long while before Margaret comes ashore.

Nonetheless, we are watching her movements carefully and keeping our friends on the beaches updated.

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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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