Sea Turtle Ecology

Tracks, and Turtle-bycatch, and Tunnels, Oh My!
by -- March 7th, 2014

Today, we had an early start to our day with a 7:30 AM raking of Long Beach. As Rebecca mentioned yesterday, the beaches are raked multiple times a week to get rid of old turtle tracks so that fresh ones can be more easily counted. Our raking took a lot less time this morning because we only had one night’s worth of tracks to cover – although based on the morning count, that one night’s worth consisted of 214 turtles in total, 92 of which successfully laid nests! In other words, it was still strenuous work and we have all gained an even greater appreciation for the interns at the Conservation Office who somehow rake the beaches nearly every single day of the week.

Luckily we had some much-needed down time for the rest of the morning. After reconvening for lunch at the hotel restaurant, all of us participated in a subsequent class activity in which we discussed issues in sea turtle conservation. During the exercise, we ranked a list of threats to sea turtles to establish a ranking of what our group believed to be the most important issues. To do this, we utilized a paired-ranking strategy, where we took each issue and compared it to every other one, prioritizing the threat within each pair and combining all our individual rankings together. The issue that obtained the most “points” was therefore considered to have the most urgency. Through this process, we were able to determine that fisheries bycatch, or the accidental capture of turtles during fishery operations, was the threat that most concerned us as a class.

Most of the time, when one thinks about hazards to turtles, the first issues that come to mind are those such as illegal harvesting or pollution, however, this is surprisingly not the case. Bycatch actually happens to have the highest effect on sea turtle populations, as millions of sea turtles are accidently caught and killed each year. It is difficult to conduct extensive research on this subject, for true bycatch numbers can often go unreported. As a result of this bycatch effect, our personal consumption of fish can indirectly influence sea turtle populations, although numbers by fishery differ based on fishing techniques and equipment, making some fisheries more sustainable and turtle-friendly than others.

Later in the afternoon, one of our hosts took us on a tour of some local volcanic tunnels. Having hiked a number of mountains and inclines so far on our trip, it was a refreshing change to actually go underground. Now we can finally say we have officially been inside a volcano, a first for all of us! Another amazing memory to add to the long list of those we have compiled during our experience here.

(Co-written by Gaby Benitez and Abby Ardis)

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Short trek to the cave

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Rebecca Kim climbing into the lava tunnel

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