Tag Archives: volunteers

Little sea turtles

Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

These two sweeties were in our office this morning: a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and a loggerhead sea turtle. They were both found dead along the Nova Scotia shore of the Bay of Fundy. They are small—juvenile turtles—and they are something to see in person. I am struck by how delicate a turtle, despite its shell, can seem. How vulnerable.

There are only a dozen Kemp’s ridley sightings on record in Nova Scotia. Kemp’s are considered the most endangered of the world’s sea turtles. And although we know we have loggerheads in Atlantic Canadian waters, it is rare for us to come across one this young.

These little turtles are, of course, much, much smaller than a leatherback. Scientists measure sea turtles using their shell length, which we refer to as the Curved Carapace Length or “CCL.” The smallest leatherback turtle we have ever worked with had a CCL of just under 120 cm. This Kemp’s had a CCL of 27 cm and the loggerhead had a CCL of 24.5 cm.

We won’t know for certain why these turtles died until our friend Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust at the University of Prince Edward Island conducts the necropsy (which is like an autopsy) on them next week. But it is a safe bet that they died of hypothermia.

Leatherbacks are able to withstand colder water temperatures than hard-shelled turtles (like Kemp’s and loggerheads) can. When hard-shelled turtles suddenly find themselves in cold water, they become “cold stunned.” If they are found soon enough they can survive. In November and December, sea turtles routinely cold stun along the coast of New England. Last year, there were an unprecedented number.

The Kemp’s was found by Betty Kenneally. Betty walks the beach near her home four times a week. She isn’t patrolling for sea turtles specifically, but this happens to be the second Kemp’s ridley turtle she’s found and reported to us.

The loggerhead was found by Carrie Dickie, who was walking the beach near her home. Her husband, Gerald Dickie, a biologist himself, carefully recorded all of the details of the animal for us.

Gerald Dickie's careful record of the loggerhead turtle Carrie Dickie found stranded on the coast of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

Gerald Dickie’s careful record of the loggerhead turtle Carrie Dickie found stranded on the coast of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

We are so grateful that they thought to call us. If you live in Nova Scotia and are interested in helping us patrol the beaches for these animals over the next six weeks, please email us at: info@seaturtle.ca.

I’ve seen many dead sea turtles over the years. And each time I wish I could whisper a bit of life into them in the way one might be allowed in a Disney film. Something to make the heads lift up and the flippers move. Something that would allow us to send them safely back into the ocean.

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Painting day

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I love days like today. Today we are painting the Sea Turtle Centre. It was lemony yellow when we moved in. When we are finished, it will be leatherback blue.

It is sunny and windy outside and the Halifax waterfront is full of people—tourists with cameras holding the hands of little kids sticky with ice cream. And locals, who are stretching their arms and legs out in the warm sun watching the clouds skitter by, knowing that this type of day is exactly why we put up with long, icy winters here.

And at our Centre, there are lots of people painting, including volunteers like Lindsay (pictured above) and Laurel who have given up this first taste of summer after so much cold rain to join us. We even had a fisherman named Jake from Cape Breton who stopped by. He had his fishing pole with him, but since the mackerel weren’t biting down in the harbour yet, he picked up a paintbrush to help for a while.

It’s the miracle of people working together to help sea turtles—what an honour and a joy to witness it!

Emily and Kayla

Emily and Kayla

Emily (front) and Laurel

Emily (front) and Laurel

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On the beach

HatchlingPerspective

With our satellite turtles near the nesting beaches, we are thinking a lot about the conservation programs taking place on those beaches right now. Jessica Bradford, who spent time volunteering to help sea turtles at Caño Palma Biological Station in Costa Rica last fall, kindly agreed to write about her experience for us:

The stretch of beach I was working on is known for four species of sea turtles: leatherback, loggerhead, green, and hawksbill. They are all endangered or critically endangered animals. While I was in Costa Rica, I saw green and hawksbill turtles. In attempts to protect and learn more about these species, volunteers are responsible for conducting night and morning beach patrols.

During night patrols, we would find adult female turtles emerging from the sea and observe their activities. If they selected a nest site, we would stay with them until they returned to the ocean. Once laying eggs, we counted them as they dropped into the egg chamber and recorded nest location data. This doesn’t disturb the turtles because they go into a trance when laying. When finished, the turtle is measured, tagged, and checked for abnormalities.

Although these massive, ancient animals aren’t incredibly graceful on land, it was fascinating to watch them emerge from the sea under moonlight and engage in the same reproductive behaviour they have for millions of years. Some turtles would be covered in bioluminescent algae and you could make their carapace illuminate by touch. I feel lucky to have shared such experiences with these beautiful animals.

Morning patrol consisted of monitoring the beach for turtle activity from the prior night. We were also responsible for excavating nests two days after hatching, meaning we would dig up a nest and count the number of hatched / un-hatched eggs to determine nesting success rates.

Excavation3

Sometimes, we would find straggler hatchlings that didn’t make it out of the nest. During my first excavation, we found 26 hatchlings. We took them closer to the water and let them run along the sand to where they belong – the ocean. The chance of survival for hatchling sea turtles is pretty slim. Every time I came across a tiny hatchling, I felt I was helping to increase those chances just a bit.

HatchlingWater

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Megan and the holiday card

CSTNHolidayCard

Many years ago now I got a phone call from Thunder Bay. I remember it clearly. It was one of those everyday moments that registers as oddly important for reasons you can’t immediately identify.

It was from Megan, who was considering a graduate degree at Dalhousie University, which is in Halifax near our office. She wondered if she might be able to volunteer to help us with sea turtles if she came. It was an important factor in her decision, she told me.

Megan volunteered while she was here. We still happily distribute the CSTN stickers she helped design as one of her school projects. We didn’t have a job to offer her in the end, and she moved on to do other great things at Kejimkujik National Park. And most people in her situation would have faded into their future and away from us.

But not Megan. And this is what I think, in retrospect, made her voice on the phone stay with me. She is someone whose passion for sea turtles is one of the lenses through which she sees the world. Whenever she can slip in a plug for leatherback turtles, she does.

Which is why leatherbacks and the CSTN were included on the beautiful series of “endangered species” holiday cards that Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI) produced. Megan advocated for a leatherback card and then arranged—with the support of the terrific crew at MTRI—for us to be able to package and sell them as a fundraiser for our research program.

They are great cards, beautifully illustrated and—as you now know—developed from the beginning with love.

(If you’d like to buy the cards, a set of eight sells for $15. Shipping is $3 in Canada and $4 to the U.S. Contact info@seaturtle.ca for more information.)

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