31 December, 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.