Picasso, the one-eyed Hawksbill hatchling
Last week, while carrying out a sea turtle nest excavation, we came across a one-eyed hatchling, whom we named Picasso. This is his story.
It was a typical morning on Grand Anse, our most popular sea turtle nesting beach on Curieuse Island. GVI staff and volunteers had already finished checking the beach for turtles and turtle nesting activities, and had moved on to the second task of the day: nest excavations. As well as monitoring nesting sea turtles, we also excavate nests that have already hatched and emerged in order to calculate how successful they have been. With November/December being peak nesting season for Hawksbills, and eggs taking between 50 and 70 days to hatch, January/February is our busiest time for hatchlings.
So there we were, digging away at a nest, pulling out all the hatched egg shells so we could count them up, and all of a sudden something was moving inside the nest – it was a baby Hawksbill, left behind by its brothers and sisters. This happens quite often, and when we find live hatchlings that haven’t made it out of the nest by themselves, we release them into the sea to give them a chance at life. So we scooped him out, and gave him to volunteer Joy to babysit while we checked for more hatchlings. Sure enough, a few minutes later there was another. Out he comes, and into Joy’s loving care. After a few minutes of confirming there were no more to come, we decided to take them down to the edge of the water to begin their big journey out into the big blue. But hang on, Science Coordinator Becky has noticed something strange about one of the hatchlings. He only has one eye. He hadn’t been attacked by ghost crabs, as sometimes happens, it just wasn’t there – he’d been born with only one. After a good examination, we took the hatchlings down to the water. We weren’t sure how Picasso, our one-eyed turtle, was going to fare, but we placed both on the beach about 1m from the water’s edge, and watched while they started to crawl towards the sea. Picasso was a little slower than his brother/sister, but still managed to make it over the sand and coral rubble, and into the water. While his brother/sister flapped away on the surface sticking his little head up to breath every few seconds, however, Picasso dived straight down to the bottom, and preceded to stay down there. We looked on, getting increasingly worried that he wasn’t going to come up, until eventually we couldn’t take it any longer, and reached down and scooped him up. Meanwhile, Picasso’s sibling is off, swimming like crazy out into the big blue. Ok, so looks like Picasso is going to need some swimming lessons.
Off we go, to find a nice calm spot sheltered behind some rocks. Once there, we place him back in the water, but again he dives straight down and doesn’t come up for a breath. We lift him up, supporting him on the surface so he can get some air, then let go again. This time, he swims a little way down, then seems to realise he is able to swim upwards as well as down, and comes back up. Big breath. Yes! He’s done it. From this point on, Picasso dives down a little way but comes up a few seconds later, poking his tiny, one-eyed head up each time and taking a breath. He’s now ready for the big version of his little practice pool, so we pick him and take him back to where he has a nice clear route over the waves and out into the open ocean, and place him back in the water. Everyone has their fingers crossed – can he do it?… And he’s done it! Picasso is now a pro swimmer, and happily paddles his way through the waves until all we can see of him is a little head poking up every few seconds – a little head, with only one eye. If Picasso is in fact a she rather than a he (and she happens to be one of the 1,000 hatchlings that beat the odds), perhaps in 30 years time some turtle researches will be walking the beach, looking for nesting sea turtles, and come across an unusual turtle… a Hawksbill with only one eye