Written by Carolyn C. of Head Royce School
Day Two: Monday June 16th
Today we stumbled out of bed, sleepy from the late turtle patrol shifts some had to work last night. Luckily, the delicious breakfast replenished our energy, and as I ate my bowl of cornflakes with banana slices (grown by their staff!), our tablemates regaled us with stories from their patrols the previous night: one group had found a leatherback turtle, which is taller and heavier than most of us, and another had happened upon turtle eggs and delivered them to the hatchery. After we sprayed on more bug repellent and sunscreen, we walked over to a leatherback turtle model in the field of moss-speckled palm trees to learn about our duties on turtle patrol. One of the staff, Andre, passed around data sheets that we examined as he explained each category. He showed us how to measure a leatherback turtle and collect its eggs, how to store and carry the eggs, where to stand while measuring the turtle, how, when, and where to tag the turtle or inject a microchip into it to track it, and instructions for other procedures that we would have to do if we found a turtle while on patrol. Then he showed us what we would have to do for green turtles and hawksbill turtles, which were both smaller and more easily frightened away. It seemed incredible that we would have the chance to interact with and collect data about the turtles. Soon, the tutorial was over, and we were given free time until lunch.
The air was warm, and the wind refreshing as it stirred through the grove of palm trees and rocked the hammocks that we had lazily swung in. Some of us peeled off towards the beach, where the waves crashed, noisy and white with foam. Some of us stayed behind, just enjoying the breeze and the chance to relax after the previous night’s patrol. Soon, it was time for lunch, which came with another opportunity to try more unfamiliar food. There were delicious rice and beans, which would gradually become more familiar as the trip wore on, and fried yuka, which hardly any of us had tried before. We hesitantly tried the yellowish, potato-like root, which turned out to be quite yummy. After lunch, we sat around the common table and played word games with each other.
Andre came back a couple hours after lunch had been served with a turtle presentation prepared for us. Flipping through huge, laminated images, he explained each one, informing us about the turtle species, the danger they were in, their life cycle, the process of laying eggs, and the development of a baby turtle. We ended the presentation feeling much more knowledgeable about the mission of the Widecast turtle station, as well as the importance of volunteering there to help protect the mother turtles and their eggs from threats posed by animals and people, especially the poachers who would steal turtle eggs from the nest to sell for money or even kill green turtles to turn their shells into ornaments.
After a few hours of rest, we left the turtle station to walk to the hatchery on the beach, where the turtle eggs are placed in a protected environment in preparation for their hatching. As we walked along the path towards the hatchery, we noticed two humongous crickets crawling among the green shoots of a plant! Another surprise awaited us when we arrived at the hatchery: baby turtles had recently hatched, and we had arrived just in time to help measure them! As the baby turtles writhed and climbed in a white Styrofoam sandbox, we carefully picked up a tiny squirming turtle out of the bunch, measured its small black shell and weighed it. The baby turtles felt so fragile, yet full of life, constantly wriggling in our hands as if anxious to get in the water and start paddling away. It was hard to believe that these small creatures would grow to be bigger and heavier than us!
After we had finished fawning over the baby turtles, our hatchery training began. Another staff member told us our duties: if eggs came, we were to dig a hole the same width and depth as the mother’s nest and carefully place the eggs within, making sure the nest was the appropriate shape and that the yolkless turtle eggs were on top. Then, we were supposed to affix a mosquito net-covered wire cage to the top of the sand-covered nest to protect the eggs from insects and crabs. If baby turtles hatched, we were supposed to fill a similar white box with wet sand and place the turtles inside of it. We practiced digging nests, making sure they were the right shape and width and depth.
We took a break from digging to watch the baby turtles being released. Because a mother turtle always comes back to her natal beach to lay her eggs, the turtles had to be released further inland in order to to recognize their birthplace. As the staff scooped out the turtles and placed them onto the sand, the baby turtles finally had the chance to put their paddling and squirming to good use. They pushed the sand with each flipper, gradually progressing towards the waves and creating a trail behind them. As we watched in awe, the turtles drew nearer to the water, finally reaching the low tide mark. We gazed on helplessly as the first turtle was tossed astray by an incoming wave, then regained its footing and continued on, eventually disappearing into the sea. Soon, all but a few turtles had struggled toward the water and had disappeared among the foam. With a mixture of pride for the turtles’ success, and sadness at their leave, the last turtles paddled into the waves, until the only signs they had been there at all were the trails of disturbed sand they had left in their wakes.
We returned to nest digging, scooping out handfuls of sand until our holes were shoulder-deep. Yet another wonder greeted us as we looked up from our holes: a rainbow had formed in the sky. We dug half-heartedly, preferring to watch the arc of colors that swept from the sea to the rainforest, nearly a whole semicircle. Its twin shimmered into sight as the clouds shifted, and we just admired the double rainbow, gaping at the breathtaking sight. Like the turtles, the rainbow eventually faded into the endless blue, and it was time to head back for dinner.
This time, the always yummy rice and beans awaited us, as usual, but now they were accompanied with a shredded vegetable salad mixed with cubes of farmer’s cheese, which we tasted experimentally: tofu-like, but slightly sour. After playing more games at the dinner table, the early shift (8-12) workers hiked towards the beach, and the late shift (12-4) workers walked back to the cabins to attempt to sleep before their shift.
Soon, it was my shift’s turn to patrol, and in the darkness of the night, we met at the common area with the other patrollers. We walked in a line towards the beach, trailing sleepily behind our leader, feet sinking into sand. As I stumbled along behind them, trying to catch up and avoid pieces of driftwood scattered along the beach, the only sounds were our hurried footsteps and the rush of the sea coming towards us and drawing away. Although the water carried no turtles, it was enough to be out there on the beach, walking blindly behind people we could not see. It would be a turtleless night, but it was reward enough to walk here in the wilderness, away from the chirps of smartphones and the orange glow of streetlamps, just listening to the rumble of water against sand, just waiting for the moon to come out behind the clouds and offer us some pale light.