Monday, June 20, 2011

Turtle-Spotting Weekend

Guyana's north-eastern Coastline, being relatively unpopulated with people is the Nesting Ground for four of the World's seven marine turtles- being the Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill and Oliver Ridley ones.
A solar-panelled station had recently been set up which doubles up as housing for a couple of Wardens, but set in the grounds of the de Freitas family who basically run the Guyana Marine Turtle Association. There seemed to be about six to ten families living on the beach-- and I have to hand it to them as I didn't see any netting in a couple of the houses I peeked into -- as the mosquitoes are the persistent, aggressive, black type common to New Amsterdam and who were a serious deterrent to any activity not undertaken under a netting!!
We had Beginner's Luck to come across two 5-footer Leatherbacks actually laying eggs on our 7-12pm patrol and we spotted two in the water-- one untagged one who ventured too near a populated area and one tagged one who swam away from the over-enthusiastic efforts of the youngsters to find the tag! The young part-time Warden who came with us noticed a trail from hatchlings and the accompanying paws of marauding dogs leading down to the shoreline and he traced back the nesting site and dug for any survivors-- we were thrilled to find three live baby Leatherbacks and one dying one. My baby Leatherback got all excited to hear the Ocean and carried out some strong Flying manoeuvres, so I went down to release him but was told the Cuirass- a type of ocean catfish - would be lurking to feed off the stragglers from the Nest. The rest of the youngish group, contrary to any conservation idea of little or no interaction with the Wildlife, had fun 'playing' with the babies and I think must have confused the s--- out of them by picking them up just when they reached the waterline to do the turtle equivalent of petting and laughing at their innate 'flying' movements. One little hatchling had the light shone of him for an extended period and he circled in and out of the water in confusion-- the warden -- being a 'nice' Guyanese guy didn't say anything but later told me that we could have blinded them by shining the strong LED lights on them directly! Sigh-- we still have a far way to go as I noticed that the innate Guyanese habit of littering -- was exhibited by the Warden himself, a native of the populated coastline- as he threw away the plastic covering of a sweetie wrapper-- which I'm sure I remember reading that the turtles swallow and choke to death by mistaking for Jellyfish! *
So-- it's the 20th Century problem spilled over to the 21st Century --- the effects of man and domesticated animals on the Wild Beasts-- as the warden said he estimated about 50% of the Eggs laid are destroyed by Man (people pay up to three times more for a turtle egg in the nearest largest town), their domesticated and feral dogs and Natural Predators - like Ghost Crabs and Carrion Crows ( local name for common vulture); leaving one in a thousand eggs to develop to Mature Adult.
Coincidentally this article came to my attention:

* The area there is referred to as Shell Beach - for the obvious reason that there were shells on the beach-- but it reminded me of how the Georgetown Seawall used to be when I was a child. It was sad to notice that there were beginning to be signs of the pollution of Plastic bottles that has become such a common sight in Georgetown.

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