Eventful morningsElizabeth Willis ‘13 | August 1, 2010
I had a funny experience on morning survey the other day. I came across a nest that had hatched and found one little baby hatchling stuck on its back on top of the nest. It was already quite hot and the hatchling was struggling a little bit trying to flip itself back over but without any success and getting quite tired in the process. We decided that it would be best to rebury it close to the surface so that it could come up later in the day when it was cooler, rather than flipping it over on its back and it getting dehydrated and dying before it got to the sea. We dug a little hole about 15 cm deep and placed the hatchling right-side up inside it. Within a few seconds, the hatchling had managed to overturn itself again, so we had doubts about it making it to the sea without any incidents. But we set it right side up, and buried it so that it faced the sea and would come up at a good angle from the hole. I don’t know if it made it out ok, but I certainly hope so!
I had a very eventful morning on O Sector on August 1st. I was leading the morning survey, with Mario from Spain and Andy from England on my team. Nesting season is winding down now, so we have stopped doing night surveys and most days we only expect one or two nests on every beach sector. However, that morning we were in for a surprise because we had 5 nests!
We split up on the beach so I was walking close to the shore, Mario was walking half-way up the beach and Andy was walking at the top of beach checking all the nests for predations, attempted predations and hatchling tracks. About ten minutes in to morning survey, I was looking ahead on the beach and saw what looked very suspiciously of a nest that had been dug up. When we got closer, I saw that I was right: a few eggshells had been strewn about and there was a small pit around the egg chamber with some more eggs exposed. Since the nest had not been found previously, we call it a nest “found by predation”. We give it a nest number and take all the necessary measurements for triangulation and GPS as we would with a normal nest. We also protect the nest, but we don’t hammer in the bamboo because after the first day when the eggs have been laid, any strong vibrations can affect the eggs, cause a separation of the amnion from the chorion and stop growth.
The nest we found was O156FBP. We counted 10 predated shells and then I found three more eggs that had been pierced and cracked open but the embryos inside were still alive. It was the strangest experience holding a cracked egg in the palm of my hand and feeling the embryo (quite obviously in the late stage of gestation and very close to hatching) moving about in its egg. We can’t rebury cracked eggs with the original clutch because bacteria from one broken egg can contaminate the whole clutch and kill all the eggs. So we transferred the three live embryos still in their eggs about 15 cm in front of the original clutch and buried them there, so that they were still protected when we put on the grid. Although the chances of these hatchlings surviving are slim given that their eggs were broken, I hope that they are close enough to hatching that they may pull through.
I’m still feeling a bit of a shock from picking up the first of the broken eggs, thinking automatically that it must be dead because it was broken, and feeling movement. My team was just as surprised and in awe as I was. We all sat there wondering how the embryos had been lucky enough to survive the trauma of having their egg broken and staring incredulously at these small, growing embryos that still exhibited a spark of life. I was definitely left speechless from the experience!
Continuing on our morning survey, we came across another four nests, two of which we had to relocate. Both relocations were effective in just under 7 minutes. One of the nests had 56 eggs and the other had 84 eggs; low numbers compared to the 100-120 egg average. We generally assume that as the season draws to a close, the female turtles will lay fewer eggs, so these numbers aren’t unusual. I do remember another group telling me that they found a nest that needed to be relocated and it only had 4 eggs in it! It is no wonder that the turtle did not want to travel far up the beach and exert all her energy just to lay four eggs.
Since we have reached the point of overlap between nesting season and hatching season, where not much is happening on either front, morning surveys are relatively short. They still remain exciting however! Our surge of 5 nests on O Sector was definitely a pleasant surprise. With only 10 days left in my time with the project, I am looking forward to doing and seeing as much as I can. We have about 10 nest excavations coming up this week for nests that have hatched or have exceeded an incubation time of 70 days and I’m looking forward to participating in as many of those as possible. We are also starting to “box” nests located in front of brightly lit hotels, so there is a night boxing shift from 10pm to 6am where you check the boxes placed over the nests over 1.5 hour intervals. If any hatchlings are found in the box, they are transferred to a bucket and released further down the beach where there are no lights and they can make their way to the water without getting disoriented. I have one of those shifts this week, so hopefully I will get to see a few hatchlings!