Tide Pools and Turtles

Last night we were surprised to hear that we would be having the night patrol off, until roughly an hour later when a message came through saying a turtle had been spotted. I had had a good feeling about tonight, and the wish I made on the shooting star the night before was coming true before my eyes (even though I was warned that wishing for a turtle on a star never worked). We quickly got ready, suiting up in our long pants and filling water bottles to the brim with ice and double filtered tap water, only to discover that the turtle that was spotted once again returned to the ocean. We returned to our rooms a little dismayed, but I for one was still buzzing with excitement that our first leatherback was surely just around the corner. Around 10 PM, we finally got word that a turtle was confirmed nesting and we rushed to the refuge to see our very first leatherback. The drive seemed even longer than normal, and I could hardly sit still with excitement. I was fully ready to take off at high speed on the beach but kept it under control.

Upon my first examination from a distance, she didn’t seem much larger than the green turtle we had seen previously, but as I crept closer I realized just how massive she was. As we examined the rear flippers, it was astonishing how massive and strong they were, and how adept they were at scooping out the sand. By the time we arrived her nest was already plenty deep. Under the red light it was possible to see the shine off the tag. Her nest was just above the berm and she had quickly dug the egg cavity and began laying eggs. During this time, we crept around to the front of her and sat inches from her face as she breathed and existed so near. It may not seem like much, but there is an indescribable feeling you get when you sit so near to this beast that existed with the dinosaurs, and even more indescribable when she blows a burp directly in your face. It was truly a moment I will never forget. The stars were bright above, the Southern Cross visible and the moon glowing bright as we examined the fresh injuries on the leatherback and watched her, a moment I think every one of us was waiting so patiently for. Once she was done covering her nest (she was very thorough), she made her way back to the berm and slid down the side of it and was gone into the ocean in seconds.

Our view upon first arriving at the tide pools.

The next morning, we woke, got ready, and left for our hike. The trail took us up and down the mountainside, where we learned the history of the turpentine/tourist trees, guava trees, stinging nettle, and more along the path. We briefly stopped at the remains of a sugar mill built in 1796 that held a large honey bee hive. Afterwards, we made our way to our destination: a beautiful tide pool. We did some rock climbing to get down to it before wading in. It still amazes me just how clear the water is and how there is no clarity difference between 6 inches and 6 feet of water. I discovered crabs and anemones in crevices, a pile of snail shells that were obviously once somebody’s meal, urchins peeking out bright red from the cracks, fish that were not afraid to nip at your ankles and sat where the tide sweeps into a spray that is more like a waterfall than a wave. The view was breathtaking, and my favorite non-turtle part of the trip thus far. While the hike was strenuous, the destination made every step worthwhile.

The clear water of the first tide pool we entered.

After resting up and discussing fibropapillomatosis of green turtles, we went out to Yam Yam restaurant in Frederiksted to get food. We also stopped at the bakery next door and picked up what looks like the most scrumptious brownie I’ve ever seen, topped with walnuts and caramel, but we are saving it for after our full night out on patrol. Considering the latest we’ve stayed out before is 2am with the green turtle, I don’t quite know how this will go, but the sight of another leatherback turtle either today or tomorrow would make it all worthwhile.