Hawksbill and an asshole on the beach

I haven’t been blogging lately as there was nothing interesting to tell. The night patrol is just walking on the beach for 4 hours, most of the time in the rain and if lucky, without any rain. Nothing much in particular.

Before the patrol, it did not cross my mind that anything interesting would happen. 8pm-12am means we would meet spotters, which could also help us by telling us whether or not there was a turtle on the beach. Orlando and I walked for quite some time and did not see any spotters. We saw faint white light ahead of us and I thought I saw a figure near the vegetation but I was not entirely sure so I flashed and someone flashed back. It was a spotter and he said nada and there was only one group of tourists from 10pm-12am. We continued walking and stopped at entrance 3 for a break. There was a half moon there. Staring up the sky and I saw one shooting star. Tick, tock, tick, tock, the time seemed to move like a turtle, it was only 9.15pm.

We continued walking and the same spotter caught up with us. We all walked until mile -1/8. While he was talking with Orlando, I heard his radio cracking. He told us there was a hawksbill turtle at entrance 19 and it was laying eggs. We had to walk really fast as entrance 19 was at mile 1 7/8. On the way there, we came across a group of tourists and spotters. There was an up track of a green turtle. Orlando said we have enough time to go to entrance 19 and come back later for this green turtle. We bumped into another spotter at mile 1 4/8 and he said the turtle was covering. We knew we had to hurry up, otherwise we would miss the hawksbill and I wanted so badly to see one!

I kept pushing myself to walk faster. I was really happy to finally see a track. Good news, only up track and no down track means that the turtle was still be ashore. We went up to find the turtle and found her under a palm tree. It was so cute, much smaller than a green turtle and very colourful (though not like I could see the colours in the dark). Orlando tagged the left flipper and said something to me. Obviously, I did not understand. I only heard placa and I saw one on the left flipper. Therefore, I thought it was a turtle that had been tagged before because we always tag the right flipper first.  It started to leave after it was tagged. I tried to read the numbers on the tag and at the same time, asking Orlando to cover its eyes but he did not understand me. Instead of doing what I said, he flashed the light on the turtle. I kept saying no!!! I finally managed to read the tag and it was the tag he tagged. Then I realised he meant that he could not read the tag as the turtle was moving and had asked me to do so. I had already written down that particular tag. If I knew it was the same tag, we could have done the measurements. I only managed to measure once and it was 89.0cm long! Hawksbill turtles are really fast and they are so much smaller than green turtles. Their tracks look different too. We erased its tracks so that (hopefully) nobody poach the eggs. When I think back of what had happened due to the communication break down, it was really funny! I just had to laugh!

We started walking to the other green turtle and Orlando’s watch showed 11.30pm. We knew we were going to be late. When we reached the turtle, a few spotters were sitting on a log, telling us that the turtle should be ready any minute. We found a guide with a group of tourists behind the turtle and it was still laying eggs. The guide asked if we were going to tag the turtle. He moved aside and asked us to tag the turtle now, while it was laying eggs. I explained that we would check for tags first and only tag after it finished laying eggs. He disagreed and claimed that he was a Biologist and we should only tag the turtle when she was in a trance. He would not allow us to tag the turtle after it finished laying eggs. When it started to cover up the nest, Orlando went over to tag. That guide said he wished that the turtle hit us with the flippers and break our arms. Echt dumm!!! He also mentioned that he did not know when the protocol was changed, bla, bla, bla. Orlando asked for a new tag and the guide explained immediately that we did not know what we were doing and now Orlando punched two holes on the flippers and hurt the turtle. Orlando explained to him that the first tag did not even pierce through the turtle but the guide did not mention that to the tourists. I did the measurement with the measurement tape while Orlando did the one with the calliber. The bad thing was his measurements were more than 1cm apart so I remeasured and overheard one tourist said ‘it’s not like the turtle grow bigger a few seconds later.’ I was really pissed by the guide. I did not want to stay longer so we left when we finished working. We managed to get his name from one of the spotter.

We called Luis to inform the other group to start walking towards us as we were definitely going to arrive late at the station. Anger was burning inside me. That guide was really an asshole! I thought they all had training and understand well about the research STC is doing but apparently I was wrong. As far as I am concerned, different organizations in different countries may have different monitoring protocols. Some tag the turtle when it is laying eggs but in Tortuguero, it is stated in our permit that we are only allowed to tag the turtle after it finishes laying their eggs. It’s not right, it’s not wrong, it’s just different and I wished that guide had more respect and tried to build a common understanding! I wished I had explained to the tourists when I had the chance, of the reason we tag a turtle when it is covering up and not before. Even if a turtle is in a trance, it does not mean it does not feel anything. Turtles that are sensitive may leave immediately if disturbed while it is laying eggs and we do not want to risk having the turtle laying eggs while leaving and leaves all its eggs along the beach.

We met Geiner and Andres near entrance 19, explained to them what had happened and showed them the hawksbill’s nest. We reached STC station at 12.40am. While I was eating, Cata was on her way to the laundry room. Orlando and I explained again. She suggested to write the incident down in a report book. I had calm down but when I was beside that guide, I really wanted to tell him to shut up but I chose to ignore and continue working. It troubles me that I am so easily provoked. Who cares what he said as long as I know what I was doing!!! Research work has improved the turtles’ populations here. It had also aid in implementing the spotter programme. I see it as a positive improvement. As a guide, it is very important to understand the importance of the turtle research and to provide tourists with reliable information. RAs, spotters, guides and tourists should work hand in hand to conserve the wildlife and not against each others. I have to say, I really learned a lot here. Everything starts from nothing but nothing is impossible.

P/S: Unfortunately the green turtle was poached while it was leaving and the nest of the hawksbill turtle was taken too! T__T


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