12-Hours Turtle Patrol

29th June was the start of Ramadhan this year. Due to the fasting month, the Fisheries staff had asked for our help to patrol the beach during the time they break their fast and go for prayers. We usually stay the whole night on the beach and only leave the next morning. It can be busy at night and sometimes overwhelming, not because of the number of turtles climbing ashore, but the constant presence of poachers. My first three consecutive nights patrolling the beach had been awesome though!

Turtle Beach and hatchery

Turtle Beach and hatchery

The view from Turtle Beach - early morning (top left), sunny morning (top right), sunset (bottom left) and stormy evening (bottom right)

The view from Turtle Beach – early morning (top left), sunny morning (top right), sunset (bottom left) and stormy evening (bottom right)

29th June 2014

When I agreed to help the Fisheries staff, I had expected a very long night, from 6 in the evening until 7/8 in the morning. What I did not expect is a busy night. The beach is only about 400m long and we usually patrol once every hour. Hence, I thought we could get some sleep at some point. The first night was so exhilarating that I was on the move most the time. Never in my life had I patrolled the beach for 12-hours straight wearing a sarong. This was the longest turtle patrol I had done. We were soaked wet while getting out of the boat at Turtle Beach as the waves was so big. I did not want to catch a cold so changed into a jacket and a sarong. We only started our first patrol at 8pm after dinner. There was a turtle coming up on the first patrol. We walked towards the end of the beach and set up our mat there. On the second patrol at 9pm, we saw a new track but it was a ‘half moon’ that indicates a turtle had come up and left without laying eggs. While we finished the second patrol, our two volunteers, Megan and Katie, said that they saw a turtle leaving the beach and they had no idea when it came ashore. I went to check and it was another ‘half moon’.  As we continued waiting and chatting on the mat, a turtle climbed past us and headed towards the vegetation. When it was out of our sights, we heard the sound of sand splashing against the vegetation. It had started to dig a body pit. Our intern, Nazirul, and I went off to check on the first turtle while Megan and Katie stayed with the one that just came up. While we waited for the turtles, a boat approached the beach. From afar, Nazirul and I could see flashes of lights when the people on the boat shone their torch to look for turtle tracks, as well as when the girls flashed back. Nazirul and I did not know what the situation was at the other end where the girls were so we stayed put. Fortunately, the boat did not come to our side because we definitely did not want them to find the turtle.

It was a huge relief when the Fisheries staff came to the beach after their prayers. Their presence itself deters poachers from coming to the beach. While we were waiting for both turtles to lay eggs, another turtle came up past 11pm. Two turtles laid eggs. It was almost 3am when the third turtle left without laying eggs. Fisheries staff had a good time watching the turtle crawling over our mat. After going back and forth between turtles, checking what they were doing, it was nice to finally to be able to sit down and rest. I went for to pee half an hour later and thought that since I had already walked more than half of the beach, I might as well do a patrol until the end. It was quite a surprise to see another new track and as my eyes followed the track, I could see the shape of a turtle, slowly crawling up the beach. After the turtle was near the trees, I continued walking and went back to get the rest. It was past 4pm when Fisheries staff prepared for their last meal before they start to fast for the day. It was almost 7 in the morning when the last turtle left. It was quite a magnificent sight watching it going back to the ocean leaving the eggs behind. These eggs will hatch in 2 months time and they too, will follow the footstep of their mother. Although physically exhausted, it was all worth it! We saw 6 turtle, saved 3 nests with more than 300 eggs on our first night.

30th June 2014

The second night was also another 12-hours patrol with Sabina, Amber and Mark. A turtle almost came up not long after 7pm. We began our first patrol at 8pm when the storm subsided. We saw a track immediately in front of the Fisheries accommodation and a turtle just came up. After it climbed further up the beach, we continued to patrol until the end of the beach. When we walked back, it had started to dig beside the turtle hatchery. An hour later, we found a ‘half moon’ track and another turtle on the beach. While we watched the first turtle laying eggs, a boat came near the beach. We flashed and they left. We waited beside the turtle as we were afraid poachers might come. Every time the turtle used its flippers to camouflage its nest, we had sand splashing at us everywhere. Fisheries arrived not long after. Just as they flashed at the hatchery, we saw hatchlings in the hatchery!! The whole moment reminded me of my time working with turtle at Tortuguero, being covered in sand and watching hatchlings crawling into the sea. After successfully putting the eggs to safety, we went to the other turtle and waited there. As we were there, another turtle came up. It was interesting to chat with the Fisheries staff as they shared their stories about their work and how turtle conservation has evolved all these years. Fisheries collected the eggs and it was already past 12am when both turtles finished laying eggs. Fisheries invited us for a drink. We went back to our hut as it started to feel like it was going to rain. We patrolled every hour after that but no more turtles came up. I think we all managed to get some sleep on the second night after seeing 4 turtles, hatchlings and saved 3 nests.

1st July 2014

The third night was just me and Nazirul. For once, the sea was calm when we arrived. After Nazirul broke his fast, we went for a patrol. Unlike the nights before, it was very quiet that night. We did not see any turtle tracks on the first few patrols. When Fisheries came, they found hatchlings in the hatchery. We decided to sleep out on the beach. There was no clouds and the sky was so clear that the stars were shining bright. Star gazing was always part of the fun during turtle watch. I downloaded an app, Google Sky Map, to check out the names of the stars. After the 12am patrol, it started to feel chilly and we could see dark clouds approaching. We went into the hut. Fisheries staff told us to get some sleep. We did another patrol at 3am, again, no turtle, nor hatchlings. I knew Fisheries staff would be up by 5pm to have some food before they start fasting. I decided to sleep until the next morning as three nights patrolling in a row started to take its toll on me. Besides it was almost not possible to sleep during the day with all the work and heat. I was quite thankful for the non-happening night.

Let’s help to protect the turtles together!

We are determined to help out every night. At the moment, due to our work schedule during the day, we are not able to patrol all night every night but at least we could help out a few hours when Fisheries staff could not be there. I am extremely grateful for all the help from Ecoteer’s and Blue Temple’s team and volunteers! I hope we could continue to patrol the beach every night and ensure that the eggs are safe. Thanks to YOU all for making it possible!

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