Because Equilibrio Azul had volunteers patrolling the other beaches, we decided to focus our efforts on La Playita, another beach within the Park where Equilibrio Azul has documented most frequent hawksbill nesting. La Playita is magic: after a two-mile hike through dense scrub forest on a narrow, muddy trail, we emerged onto a short, secluded white sand beach tucked into a rocky cove shaped by high cliffs on either side.
|While most other sea turtle species prefer |
clear beaches and won't venture far into
brush, hawksbills make their nests under
brambles and bushes. The hawksbill turtle
named 'Machalilla' nested well inside this
area of bushes before coming out, receiving
her transmitter, and returning to the sea.
© Alexander Gaos
As hawksbills prefer to nest on beaches that are isolated, have difficult access and lots of thorny brambles of vegetation, a quick scan of La Playita made it clear that we were at ground zero for nesting hawkbills in Ecuador.
For the first couple of hours, we didn’t see any nesting turtles of any species, but we took solace knowing that it was simply a matter of time before we could find ourselves a hawksbill.
Periodically, we strolled from one end to the other looking for turtle nesting activity, passed time during breaks telling jokes and mind puzzles, and tried to stay awake and alert in case we had to go into action.
It's a good thing we did.
Within moments of having departed on a patrol, Andrés came running back shouting, “It's a hawksbill! It's a hawksbill!”
|The nesting hawksbill 'Sonia' coated in sand as she covered her egg clutch, © Alexander Gaos. |
Sonia laid 149 eggs, all the size of ping-pong balls. © CI/Photo by Bryan Wallace
We grabbed our stuff and sprinted to the telltale track that emerged from the water's edge and disappeared under vegetation at the top of a sand dune. I followed the track up the beach to find the turtle and confirm that it was, in fact, a hawksbill. For the last few yards, I crawled on all-fours to avoid disturbing the nesting turtle; there was a lot riding on this going off without a hitch, and I didn’t want to be the reason we missed an opportunity to put the first satellite transmitter on a hawksbill in Ecuador!
As I approached the turtle, I could hear her digging her nest chamber, and could see her rounded back covered in a dusting of sand that she had thrown in the process. I watched, almost breathlessly, as she delicately scooped sand out of her nest with her rear flippers.
|Alexander Gaos, Coordinator of the Eastern Pacific |
Hawksbill Initiative, and Jeff Seminoff prepare the
epoxy on Sonia's carapace to which a satellite
transmitter was later attached.
|The epoxy is smoothed carefully onto the shell |
around the transmitter to prevent snags or air pockets.
© CI/Photos by Bryan Wallace
She alternated flippers rhythmically, almost robotically, programmed by millions of years of evolution and countless generations before her, to make the nest into which she would eventually deposit her reason for existing – 150 spherical, ping-pong ball-sized eggs.
VIDEO: Watch this hawksbill lay her eggs.
We were positively giddy, especially Andrés and Felipe, who had done an enormous amount of planning for the expedition. With our equipment in place, we waited for the turtle to finish nesting and begin her return to the sea. At that point, we quickly snapped into action, and attached a GPS-linked satellite transmitter to the dome of her 92 cm (just less than 3 foot-long) carapace, using a construction grade, quick-setting epoxy.
Once the epoxy had dried, we allowed the turtle, now called Sonia, to complete her crawl back to the ocean. We were elated – this was a major accomplishment for all involved, and especially for sea turtle conservation in the region. The walk home on the narrow forest trail didn’t seem to take as long as it had in the rain and mud of the previous night.
|Sonia, with newly attached satellite transmitter, heads toward the sea with a little help. © CI/Photo by Bryan Wallace|
– Reported by Bryan Wallace
<< Previous | Next >>