March of the Turtlings
Do you know what it’s like to watch hundreds of turtle hatchlings (I’m going to call them ‘turtlings’) pour out of their nests? Do you know what it’s like to watch them rush on their way to the sea? Do you know what it’s like to watch them take their first swim? Do you even know how lucky you have to be to see all this from start to finish, with your own eyes?
It was the morning of the 27th of January. A cold and very, very wet morning at Grand Anse beach. It was quite miserable for Science Officer Bridgette, fellow volunteer Erin and myself walking back and forth between turtle nests in the pouring rain. But our day changed when we found a turtling resting in a small ditch. Bridgette told us that this was a nest of Hawksbill hatchlings close to emerging. A huge number of turtlings were digging their way up from the safety of their nest. It would take a while for them to reach the surface, so we went on to do what we came to do – record all the new turtle activity, including nests, on the beach.
Four hours later, with the entire beach checked, we returned to the nest. It was still pretty much in the same state as we left it! The turtling on top had not budged, and it was blocking its brothers and sisters below. It was a surprise that it hadn’t been eaten by a crab or seabird yet. This fellow had sheer dumb luck on its side. Almost an hour and a Bridgette-nearing-hypothermia later, they at last broke the surface. They were clambering over and under each other as they exited their dark, damp hole. Soon there was a river of turtlings making its way down the beach to the sea. Before the sea, there was a small drop and the result was that they all took a little tumble off the drop before continuing on their way. Eventually, they all made it to the blue water. It was simply moving to watch these tiny turtles crawl so awkwardly, and struggle to close what was to them a huge gap between their nest and freedom. The line of turtlings coming out of that hole seemed endless. I kept expecting the line to end but more and more were crawling out, so much that for a moment, I felt that we were going to be there all day. The final count was 152 mini turtles. And do you know what the best thing about this day was? We saw not just one, but two emerging nests. That’s right, two in one day! What are the chances of that?!
Because on our way back to the above nest, we had spotted a line of maybe 10 to 20 turtlings already undertaking their pilgrimage to the sea. These turtlings had slightly more trouble than the second nest. Firstly, Erin had to wrestle a small crab out of this nest that was waiting to prey on the hatchlings, and then, there was a big obstacle – an outcrop of rock just before the water. The turtlings attempted to climb it. They were in danger here because waiting for a feast were more crabs. Bridgette managed to free a turtling from a crab’s claws, but the crab then went for another. Such is the fate of many baby sea turtles as they make their way to the sea. We decided to give them a helping hand, and relocate as many turtlings as possible to a less rocky part, and most survived the march and made it into the big blue. Now it was up to fate to decide how many of these survivors would grow to adulthood and one day produce hundreds of little turtlings of their own.
Having the chance to watch hundreds of baby turtles march to a life in the sea, let alone seeing two emerging nests in one day, was truly a treat for the three of us. This sort of event usually happens at night while we are not watching, but the rain probably cooled down the sand enough to cause them to emerge early. It really was a big fortune that we were there to see this magical event. It also shows how important it is that we strive to conserve these beautiful creatures that have been on this Earth hundreds of millions of years before us humans came along. It is important so that our children, and their children, have the chance to be lucky enough to see with their own eyes what we saw on this day. It definitely beats seeing it on TV! I sincerely hope that future volunteers to Curieuse get to witness this wonderful sight.