Sea Turtle Ecology

A Day of Culture
by -- April 29th, 2013

Our first activity of the day was a trip into the rainforest to see one of St. Croix’s biggest tourist attractions: drinking pigs. This attraction has been around for over 40 years on the island and consists of shaking up cans of non-alcoholic beer, then handing the cans to the pigs who seem very happy as they guzzle them.

Next, we went to a mahogany shop/warehouse in the rainforest with beautiful creations from local trees. All the felled mahogany trees from the island go here after they’re cut down, so they’re not being wasted and instead they’re turned into art! They had dolphin magnets, palm tree ornaments, kitchen utensils, cutting boards, clocks, etc. Many of us bought souvenirs, but the group was a little disappointed because they recently ran out of turtle shapes.

On the way back from lunch at Rose’s Dream Cuisine (owned by a friend of Kelly’s), we noticed a crowd of people on the beach. Everyone was staring at a stranded dolphin! We stopped the van and got out to see the dolphin while Kelly called her friend at US Fish & Wildlife to check out the situation. The dolphin had scars from fishing nets and a few open wounds, but was still alive. Many of us took pictures and videos, which ended up being helpful to US Fish and Wildlife because the dolphin managed to make its way back out to deeper waters before anyone arrived. Still, this was only the 6th dolphin stranding in St. Croix during the past ten years. Hopefully it turned out okay.

After a quick break back at the cottages, we went out to Sandy Point to see some leatherback nesting tracks during the daytime.  In addition to finding leatherback tracks, we also found some eggs on the surface of the sand that may have been dug up by a predator. Matthew opened up some of the eggs to show us the difference between yolkless eggs and eggs with yolks.  When leatherbacks nest, they lay a mixture of both yolkless and yolked eggs. Some scientists think that the yolkless eggs help to space out the eggs for increased oxygen transfer, while others think that they are an accident; nobody knows for sure.  Matthew showed us how far along in development the eggs were before they were disrupted and stopped developing.  In two of the eggs we were able to see the developing turtle, which had small black dots that would have developed into eyes and even a small backbone!

After a dinner of burgers (and veggie burgers) and fries, the final group headed out to the Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge to begin the final nighttime turtle watch.  The first turtle we found was a nesting green turtle, which was the first nesting green turtle we had seen the whole trip! The female adult green turtle was surprisingly large, especially compared to the juveniles we had caught in Culebra. We also saw three leatherback turtles, which provided us with plenty to do, so we didn’t fall asleep.  During the waiting times, the stars were wonderful, so we just laid back and watched the constellations until the next patrol started.  One of the leatherbacks was a neophyte, meaning it had never been observed before, so we got to see a biopsy being taken for genetic analysis and we helped with measuring.  After a long night of walking the beach, in the early morning we finally returned to the cottages for needed rest before travelling the next day.

-Eleanor and Lizzie

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