Today was a slow, relaxing morning. The activities we have been doing and the places we have been visiting have been phenomenal, but we were all eager for a break and morning to catch up on some sleep.
After lunch, we gathered to watch Matthew perform a necropsy on a hatchling that unfortunately had not made it to sea. It was fascinating to see all the small organs and the giant yolk sac still remained intact beneath the plastron. The journey from the nest to the sea is not an easy one, and full of danger and predators. The yolk remains a big part of the hatchling to help sustain it as it swims out into the sea for the first few days.
At dusk, we walked down to Long Beach where we met up with the four turtle conservation interns to help rake the beach. In order to get an estimate of the number of turtles that come up to nest at night, the beach is “raked,” or cleared of any previous tracks left by turtles. We used huge, wide rakes to go over and smooth out the entire length of the beach. It was tiring work, but the cerulean-tinted ocean and red mountains of volcanic rock made for a beautiful setting.
As we raked, we found two nests of hatchlings that were emerging. Before we even had a chance to get a closer look, a male Frigate bird with a bold red pouch beneath its beak swooped down and snatched one of the hatchlings away. Although turtles lay lots of eggs, the majority becomes meals for birds and fish, and helps churn the natural ecosystem.
We cooled off and grabbed dinner at the snack bar on the American Air Force base before splitting into groups for some evening fieldwork on Pan Am and Northeast Beach. Northeast Beach was gorgeous at night; with no light pollution, we were able to see Jupiter and point out lots of constellations. Everyone has gotten a lot better at identifying the different stages of turtle nesting, sometimes solely using sound as an indicator. We were able to watch two females lay eggs, and we carefully inserted temperature data loggers into their deep nests to digitally track data on the nest conditions.
It is sad to think that our trip is coming to a close, but we are soaking up every moment and are excited for the adventures that lie ahead!
PS- We made the front page of the Ascension community newsletter!