Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to join the sea turtle interns at the Conservancy of South West Florida on a night patrol of Keewaydin Island. I was so excited because even though I am out on the boat almost every day monitoring sea turtle activity, I had never actually seen a sea turtle before (aside from the occasional maybe-a-turtle-head off in the distance taking a breath before quickly disappearing again). After a regular morning of patrolling the Cape Romano beaches, I prepared to head out for night patrol. I arrived at Shell Island Road at 8pm, excitedly wondering whether or not I would see my first sea turtle that night. Right off the bat I realized how grateful I was that I had been warned about how many more mosquitos I would encounter on night patrol vs. day patrol, because had I not dressed accordingly I would have been absolutely covered in bites from head to toe. After I was handed a headlamp with red-light, not white-light because it can disorient the turtles, we were ready to head out to the beach. The interns at Keewaydin Island drive ATVs up and down the beach looking for fresh turtle crawls out of the ocean. If they find a crawl with an entrance, but no exit, then they know that there is a turtle on the beach that is thinking about nesting. As I was riding on the back of one of the ATVs it was hard not to think that every stump and every piece of drift wood ahead of me was a turtle coming out of the ocean, thankfully the interns know the beach like the back of their hand and are not fooled by turtle-sized stumps. The next thing I knew, we saw a crawl with an entrance but no exit! We hopped off the ATV and quietly went to see if the turtle was nesting or not. Unfortunately at that exact moment, someone came noisily driving down the beach on an ATV with white light, stopped to see what we were looking at, and yelled loudly in excitement about seeing the turtle. With all of this sudden excitement around her, it was no surprise that the turtle quickly turned around and left the beach without nesting. Even though my first turtle sighting was somewhat interrupted, it was still an unforgettable moment and I couldn't wait to see another one! We continued driving up and down the beach until around 6am. In that time I was able to see 2 turtles nest, plus the turtle that had false crawled earlier in the night came back onto the beach and managed to nest (thankfully this time with no interruptions)! Seeing my first sea turtle is an experience that I will never forget, and hopefully it is just the beginning of a long future of sea turtle sightings!
Friday of this week was a day of pure excitement! After I dropped off the volunteers to walk the first stretch of Blind Pass, I proceeded like I normally do and maneuvered the boat around the sandbar and waited for the volunteers to meet up with me on the other side. The next thing I knew, one of my volunteers came running down the beach frantically waving his arms. At first I was worried that someone had gotten hurt, but soon I was able to make out the excited words of "There is a turtle nesting, right now, on the beach!" I didn't quite believe what he was saying; it was 10am after all, and a highly irregular time to find a turtle that usually nests in the dark of night, on the beach. I quickly anchored the boat and followed the volunteer, and there was in fact a nesting turtle on the beach! She was in the process of depositing her eggs into the egg chamber she had dug, so we stood back and watched as with each twitch of her rear flippers she added more eggs to her clutch. After she finished nesting, camouflaging her nest and crawling her way back down the beach and into the ocean, we sprang into action and started our regular routine of caging the nest. Watching the turtle deposit her eggs certainly made them easier to find! Friday is definitely a day I will never forget, and I am now more than excited to see this nest hatch out!
Well another week has gone by and, yes, I am officially a professional boat driver! Ok, maybe not quite up to senior level, but I'm working on it! This week I was lucky enough to go with Greg Curry, the Reserve's Resource Management Specialist, to the Ten Thousand Islands. It was awesome to have a change of scenery (although I was totally lost, and just when I finally got the Cape Romano route down!). New area = new beaches = NEW TURTLES!! I finally got to see a green turtle nest and I was so excited! Man those turtles really like to confuse you. First of all, this girl crawled ALL over the beach - took me almost 20 minutes to rake out her crawl. Not to mention the fact that the nest itself was massive, as you can see in the photo. There was sand everywhere around the giant pit she dug for herself. Needless to say, it was an awesome experience, and I can't wait to go back there. The rest of the week entailed more Kice & Cape Romano turtling, totaling 18 nests for the week. Good news- none of them were depredated! Although this is most likely because we haven't been finding many nests on Cape Romano beach itself. Our numbers still aren't quite up with last years, but hopefully this coming week we can catch up!
Being from Colorado, I have had my fair share of scorching hot summer days, but at my altitude the air is light and crisp. Upon my arrival in Florida I immediately found that breathing down here literally required drinking air. The first few days were brutal adjusting to the new climate, and the lack of sea turtle nests wasn't encouraging either. The first time I found turtle tracks, they led to a depredated nest that only had three eggs left in the cavity! Then, after tropical storm Andrea we checked all the nests only to find that many of them (including all of the ones on blind pass) had been inundated. So far, not a good season to be a turtle. However after the storm, things began to look up. We found and caged many nests, and even had a crawl on New Beach, which has barely seen any action yet. I even finished the online boating course so I can now drive the boats! Still need to practice my docking skills though, but I'm sure that will come as I gain more experience through this amazing internship.
This week was a week filled with interesting dolphin behavior. Being from a very landlocked town in Ontario, Canada, I am thrilled every time our turtle trips are sprinkled with dolphin sightings. To say that I was beyond thrilled this week to see a pod of 5 dolphins playing and socializing near Morgan Beach is an understatement. Though dolphins are known for their playful nature, males can become aggressive towards other males during mating season. What I originally thought was a pod of dolphins playfully splashing through the water looked to be something more as I saw that the origin of the splashing was actually two dolphins colliding with one another; a behaviour often seen in competing males. Though I could see no clear victor, the battle will likely have continued until the dominant male dolphin became clear to the on looking female dolphin and the loser retreated in defeat.