Sea Turtle Ecology

Brava and Resaca Beaches (Tues., Apr. 26) – Sea Turtle Fananza!!
by -- April 27th, 2011

We began our day with an early start at 6 by heading for two separate beaches: Brava and Resaca. Both of these are known Leatherback nesting beaches and we went to see if there was any evidence of nesting from the previous night.

Welcome to Brava beach!

One group headed for Resaca and had a steep hike and descent on their way to the site, but returned empty handed. Our group left for Brava, which could only be reached after a twenty-minute hike from the road. There was a false crawl on the beach, where the turtle emerged from the ocean, crawled up the beach, but did not leave any eggs in a nest. 

False crawl on the beach: the turtle looped around after crawling through the sand.

About forty feet further down the beach, there appeared to be a true nest where the turtle headed up the beach, dug its nest, laid its eggs, and returned to the ocean. The turtle crawl literally looked like the trail of a tractor coming out of the ocean. It was hard to miss.

Real Leatherback nest!

Although this was an exciting sight to see, it decreased the odds of another turtle coming up on this beach to nest that night (meaning that it was unlikely we were going to return at night for patrolling at Brava).

Brava at 6 in the morning.

After our morning hikes, we returned to the house and received two presentations: Patricia talked about her masters project on sea turtle diets and Carlos had a short presentation on the general methodology of turtle research.

The third part of our day was also action packed: we headed to the Carlos Rosario Reserve with the help of a local fishermen and one of our own boats. We ended up snorkeling in the Luis Peña Channel Natural Reserve, which is just off shore from the Carlos Rosario beach. It is the first NO TAKE zone in Puerto Rico established with the help of the Culebra Fishermen’s Association to help protect coral reefs and replenish local fish stocks. It is home to a beautiful coral reef where both hawksbill and green sea turtles reside.

Our job involved spotting and capturing hawksbill turtles by hand with the help of Carlos who ended up doing most of our dirty work, as we were unfamiliar with the proper techniques of handling the turtles. Some put up quite a chase, but in the end we caught a total of seven hawksbills, brought them on board and did the usual protocol of recording any tags or tagging the animal, measuring their carapace length, getting their weight, and of course taking our pictures with them. 

Andy gently holding his new pet Hawksbill.
Hawksbill with a gash on his hind flipper, possibly from a predator.
First boat with the Hawksbills.
The other boat with the Hawksbills.

After releasing them, we went home and promptly fell asleep to prepare for the long night ahead…

Unfortunately, despite spending nearly 10 hours out on Zoni beach patrolling for Leatherbacks, we didn’t find any turtles. We took turns patrolling the beach in pairs every half hour and stayed at the end of the beach for another half hour. While some people patrolled, the others either napped or played cards. The first spot we used as a meeting point was super windy and it felt like we were in the middle of a sand storm. After several hours of literally eating sand, we decided to move to one end of the beach where it was less windy. To top that off, it also rained as we were lying on the beach and there wasn’t really anywhere to hide. But even with all our patient waiting on the beach the entire night, there were no Leatherbacks to be found. Hopefully we will be able to see some tomorrow night!

 

Jesse and Sharon

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