Turtle storiesElizabeth Willis ‘13 | June 21, 2010
I came back from Koroni last Thursday with burns on two fingers where I had come into contact with a jellyfish and the fingers had swollen to the size (and color) of carrots. The look on everyone’s face when I walked up seemed to say “Liz, you’ve touched one thing too many…” I may be one of the most inquisitive and curious members of our group and I like to get up close and touch things when I know they are harmless. I had decided to snorkel between Koroni and Lefkas that morning instead of kayaking and it was a beautiful morning swim. The water was crystalline clear and very calm. I saw two small rays, a starfish, lots of very interesting fish and of course the jellyfish that stung me. I didn’t intentionally poke the jellyfish, though; I know to keep away from those!
Having a swollen hand hasn’t limited my work or shifts. Upon our arrival to Lefkas beach on Thursday we found a false crawl. In addition, just last night (Sunday) we had one new nest and two false crawls on our end of Mounda beach. We missed the turtles that made the false crawls but we saw the last one nest. I got to tag the turtle, which was pretty little. She was very quiet and seemed unperturbed by the tagging, she didn’t even yank her flipper back as hard as the others did. Matt, from the UK, who I was working with had a pair of night vision goggles so when we watched the turtle from a distance it was very cool to see her through the goggles.
With all the turtle activity recently the numbers have gone up to 13 nests and 13 false crawls on Mounda beach. Koroni/Lekfas has three nests and one false crawl and Avythos and Megasamos have 16 possible nests and a few more false crawls. Turtle activity has picked up quite a bit. We have had to tag six turtles so far, and we have seen more untagged females while snorkeling so we expect to do more tagging during the season. We have old as well as new turtles nesting—one turtle’s tag goes as far back as 1998, although Manuel, the program director, thinks that she was tagged previous to that– the project started roughly 20 years ago but some of the early data was not recorded properly and has been lost.
It has been very exciting getting news from the people on night shifts and also the people on morning shifts about the nests and the tracks. We always have stories to share and experiences to compare. So far, the most exciting turtle watch has been by Aaron from Texas and Vanessa from Ireland, who came across the turtle as she was making her way up the beach from the water.
They watched her as she dug and abandoned two body pits and begin her trip back to the water without nesting. At that point, knowing that they still needed to record all her data, Aaron rushed up and grabbed the turtle by the shoulders. This was Vanessa’s first night shift (we had a turnover of volunteers; 3 people left and 4 new people arrived), so Aaron was telling her everything she needed to do as she washed all four flippers looking for a tag—but found none. Tagging is difficult while the turtle is in her trance laying the eggs but Vanessa managed to tag her on the first try while Aaron was wrestling with the turtle as she hissed and thrashed and dug her flippers in the sand. Vanessa managed to get all the shell measurements and a drawing of the shell pattern while Aaron struggled with the turtle. It was surely a different experience from the calm data collection when a turtle is laying her eggs!
Even though Aaron and Vanessa had a difficult time, they certainly had a good story to tell at the end of it, and that experience is not one to be forgotten quickly! My nesting experiences have been a lot more relaxed and exciting in their own way, although wrestling with a turtle does seem like a vigorous and exhilarating event that would be fun to try once.
This morning we had to relocate our first nest because it was located to close to the high tide line and there was danger of the nest being flooded. Although I wasn’t there in person, people got to pick up and carry the eggs to a new location higher on the beach where they could be better incubated. I definitely wish I had been there to feel and see the eggs up close and in better light. They look, and people have affirmed that they are, rather squishy and rubbery but also very smooth and slippery so you have to be really careful in the relocation process not to drop them. The morning shift had to move the eggs pretty quickly though since the heat was already picking up and they didn’t want to expose the eggs to long. Measurements were taken both for the old nest and the new nest they created and now all we can do is wait and hope that the relocation was successful!