Monday, December 31, 2018

Something Special for the Last Blog Post in 2018

Here we are at the end of another eventful year.  It has been difficult to blog for quite a few months because of our horrible internet access, but I think we have resolved that.  For the time being anyway.

I want to the end year on a high note.  One of the most exciting and special things that happened here in Englishtown was successful nesting of the very endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle. The first clue that we had sea turtle activity on our property was seeing tracks from their exploratory crawls.  A female turtle will make numerous exploratory crawls in the weeks and days before she actually digs a nest hole and lays eggs.  She will also make several nests over the space of a single nest season.

Here is what a turtle crawl looks like.  She came out of the water to the left of the dock and crawled across our front yard.  Those tank tracks are hers.
Close inspection of the tracks showed that she crawled with alternating front flipper movement, indicating that she was a Hawksbill Turtle.  The other sea turtles in Belize (Loggerhead and Green) use their flippers in tandem like a breast stroke.
 Once she got to the lilies growing at the front of our cabana foundation, she turned north and crawled parallel to our cabana until she reached a soft spot for digging.  She made her nest under the lilies before crawling back to sea.
The crawl back to sea.  The flipper tips are about 3 and half feet apart.
And here is what a nest looks like.
The cabana foundation is along the left side of the photo.  I took the picture while on the front steps looking down onto the lilies.  All the darker colored sand is what she churned up while crawling and digging.  The nest hole itself is only about 10 or 12 inches in diameter and is located just below the 3 brown leaves just to the left of center at the top of the photo.
With the help of one of our Belizean workers, who is the son of a very experienced wildlife conservator, we confirmed that this was a real nest and not a blind dig.  We fenced off the area so we wouldn't walk on it while tending the grounds and also to keep the dogs away from it. Then we started the countdown to hatching in 60+ days.  What we didn't know was that there was an earlier nest at the north end of our property.
Another nest just this side of the jungle at the far end of our property.  
This property with a good sloped beach, open space with some vegetation, and very little nighttime light pollution is ideal for turtle nesting.  Turtles generally come back to their natal beach for nesting, so this activity is probably from turtles that hatched here up to 25 years ago.  We found the mostly empty nest after most of the turtle hatchlings had made their way to the sea.  There were 3 left, trapped at the bottom of the 18 inch deep nest hole.  We brought them to the surface to let them make their way to the sea.
Tiny turtle hatchling next to my size 7 (US) foot.  They are little things considering how big they get - 300+ pounds for the adults.
Turtle track in miniature, with alternating flipper action.
We realized that the hatchlings had probably been trapped in the nest overnight, so rather make them crawl on their own to sea, we carried them closer to the shore.
As soon as they hit the wet sand, they sped up. 
This one is not quite there yet.
Crawling over the washed up Sargassum seaweed for the final couple of feet.
 The waves were gentle and washed the turtles out to deeper water.
As soon as they got wet, they were off.
The three little turtles swam quite strongly away from shore, stopping now and again to poke their heads out of the water to breath and look around.  It will be at least 8 years before they reach maturity.
Bye bye.  See you again in about 8 years.
The nest in front of the cabana hatched out in due time with 78 live hatchlings.  The sea was very rough that day and the little ones kept getting tossed back on shore.  So we gathered them up in buckets and I carried them out past the breakers to let them swim off.  That kept me busy, so I didn't get any pictures of them.  Just like the others, though, they swam off sure and strong into the big sea.  We dug out the nest and found 60 nonviable eggs that did not hatch, probably because they had been submerged in water from the extremely cool and rainy weather in November.  A typical Hawksbill nest will have 130 to 180 eggs, so this one was on par.  Another nest was a complete loss, probably also due to flooded conditions.  In preparation for the next nesting season, we will build up their preferred areas with sand in hopes that the nest holes won't flood.  Turtle nesting activity tends to go in cycles of several years of activity followed by several years with little to no activity.  We sure hope to see more next year and to have improved conditions for them. 

18 comments:

  1. It was good to hear about the Turtle success .
    Happy New Year Wilma.

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    1. Definitely a high point of the year, Roy. Happy New Year to you as well. Hope our internet connection stays good enough for more blog viewing and commenting.

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  2. This is absolutely amazing. What great photos. When I was in my teens, my family was staying in a place on the beach in Florida and my sister and I watched a turtle laying her eggs late one night. What an incredible experience. Of course we didn't last the entire time and I always wanted to see the hatchlings make their way into the water. Thank you for this. How exciting to live there!

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    1. I bet that was incredible to watch the turtle laying her eggs - what a wonderful memory that must be. We could tell when the turtles were coming onto the beach because the dogs would start barking like mad. For all of the egg laying season we had to keep the dogs up on the back veranda so they couldn't smell the turtles and keep us awake all night. But even if the dogs had barked all night, it would have been worth it as long they didn't scare the turtles off.

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  3. This is very encouraging indeed and it is great to read an upbeat story of success to counteract the flood of negative reports these day. Congratulations on your stewardship.

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    1. Thank you, David. We are fortunate to live in a place with so much wildlife habitat still intact, although the edges are getting frayed. Doing our best to not make it worse and to even improve things where we can.

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  4. Hi Wilma.
    That's a beautiful post. I am amazed you have time to read monor blogs from over here, I mean they are no way on par with yours. I admire you dearly. I enjoy reading your posts even though I might not comment. keep it up. Happy New Year. xx

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    1. Hi Ken. I love to read blogs like yours. - you take such delight in what you see and experience. Thank you for your comment; it makes me happy to know that you like to read these posts. Cheers!

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  5. Oh Wilma, what a wonderful post! I absolutely *love* turtles. Thank you for visiting my blog, and here's to a happy and turtle-filled new year!

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    1. Yes to a turtle-filled new year! Thanks for stopping by and sharing our excitement.

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  6. What a brilliant blog and what an experience to have them on your property so that you can protect and help them. Thank you so much for sharing that with us.

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    1. Definitely a highlight of our lives so far in Belize - or anywhere. I hope the 2019 season is kinder to them, weather-wise, but I think we can learn a little more to be able to improve the survival rate. I have been in contact with the department that monitors turtle activity and they have promised to send some protocols on nest monitoring and protection.

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  7. Oh, Wilma! This is SO exciting! I have seen sea turtles lay eggs before and it is the most dramatic and amazing thing. And I have seen little ones crawling to the sea. Such hope in their struggles! This was in Florida.
    They have a huge sea turtle conservation program in Cozumel. The side of the island they lay on is almost completely unoccupied by humans so they get a lot of activity and it's gone up a lot in the last few years. Many people volunteer to help with the marking of nests and with the hatchings. It's such a beautiful thing. I believe the turtles are sacred. To me, at least. If you feel so inclined and can order from Amazon in your paradise there in Belize, you might want to get a copy of Search For The Great Turtle Mother by Jack Rudloe. He lives near here and I think that book is amazing. https://www.amazon.com/Search-Great-Turtle-Mother-Rudloe/dp/1561640727
    Happy New Year, friend!

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  8. It is exciting, isn't it? Thanks for the link to the book, which I have just now purchased on my Kindle for instant gratification Plus, books tend to mildew down here, so I keep hardcopies to a minimum. I look forward to reading it.

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  9. Happy new year Wilma.
    Congratulations on such an exciting post. Looking forward to more!

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    1. Thanks, Phil. This is my kind of excitement!

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  10. Aw, those babies are adorably cute. I had no idea they grow to be 300 pounders. Yikes. This is a very cool post, Wilma. Thank you - fun way to end and start a year.
    All the best for a safe, sound, adventurous 2019.

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  11. It is amazing that those cute little things will get so big if they live to adulthood. I hope I get see some of them again.

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