Two weeks have gone by. Good news is we all survived the intensive training, from learning and working under supervision to finally working independently without any supervision. We started by identifying each species, knowing their body parts and nesting phase, as well as remembering the monitoring protocols.
As much as I want to see a leatherbacks turtle, their nesting season is over. However, it is the nesting season for green turtles. Lucky for us, Tortuguero is famous as a nesting ground for these turtles. Turtles are everywhere every night! When I first saw one, I thought it was quite scary. Each time it breathed out, it gave me a shock and I had to take a step back. However, I’m getting used to it now.
Night patrol at 8pm-12am/12am-4am
As we only work in a team of 2 or 3, we walk along the beach to check for turtle track. If there is an up track, it means a turtle is on the beach. Then we look for a down track. If there is one, it means that the turtle has left (la Tortuga rayo), otherwise it is still somewhere ashore. The first nesting phase (1) is emerging, where a turtle climbs ashore. It is crucial to spot them afar and stay still until it is out of sight because it usually makes a u-turn and goes back into the sea if it sees movements. It is also important to look for out for turtles that are (8) leaving.
If there is a turtle up on the beach, one person follows the up track and try to find it to determine what it is doing. It is hard to find it in the dark but of course not impossible. For beginners like me, I use a torch to flash around. Sometimes I find it in open area but mostly under the vegetation. Depending on which phase it is in, sometimes I hear noises. Once I found one, I make sure where the head is because I must always stay behind a turtle. Then I ensure the phase she is in – (2) searching for a nesting site (locals call it loquiando meaning the turtle is going crazy!), (3) digging the bodypit (limpiando) and its rear slippers move like indiscreet wipes, (4) digging the egg chamber (excavando la camara), (5) laying the eggs (tornado huevos), (6) covering up (tapando) or (7) camouflaging (camoflando).
I only work with the turtle if it is covering up or camouflaging. I check for tags (tag it if it doesn’t have any), measure the length of its carapace while another RA records everything. We can count the eggs and mark the nest if we found her at the right time.
Although it is a long walk every night, it is worth it. I see turtles, shooting stars, fireflies, blue sand, bats…etc. Sometimes I feel the gentle breeze, sometimes it is just humid so it it common to sweat a lot, especially after working with the turtles. Not forgetting all the sand I get all over me! On my face, neck, shirt, pants and even in my shoes. Apart from tagging the turtle, I pretty much enjoy the night patrol with the company the other funny RAs!