The night after my daughter Anna and I arrived in Jalova, we joined Ale, the Turtle Project leader, and two other volunteers on night Turtle Patrol. In the pitch dark, following Ale, we stumbled up the beach searching for signs of turtle nesting. It was so dark I had to hold on to Anna to avoid tripping over the debris on the beach, but within minutes, Ale spotted tracks and found the first green turtle of the night. She had come out of the ocean to lay her eggs, but not satisfied with the spot, she did a u-turn back into the ocean.
Next, we came upon a small tragedy; a nesting turtle had just been predated by a jaguar. The scent of jaguar was still in the air, so Ale had us back up to the water’s edge and leave the area. Jaguars rarely hurt humans, but with a mother and her two cubs in the area, it was best to put some distance between us.
Finally, Ale spotted a large green turtle in the process of digging an egg pit. She had chosen a difficult spot under a fallen tree in a tangle of branches. We arrived as she was using her rear flippers to scoop out the egg chamber. Using her rear flippers she would scoop out sand, which she would fling away, repeat the process with the other flipper; creating an egg chamber. Carefully she shaped it to her satisfaction. When she was ready to start laying, Adam crawled under the tangle of branches and positioned himself beside the turtle. With one hand in the hole, he counted 118 eggs as they dropped from her cloaca. Meanwhile, Ale and I triangulated the nest so it could be tracked and studied for the next 60 days while the eggs incubated. Ale checked and recorded the turtle’s tags. Next, Anna crouched by the turtle and did the body check, looking for wounds, scratches, or disease. This turtle was in excellent health.
When the turtle had deposited the eggs, she buried them and disguised the site by flipping sand everywhere. Because of her awkward location under the tree, for a while she appeared stuck in the tangle of roots. As we debated whether we should help extricate her, she broke free and headed for the sea. Ale chased her long enough to measure her with callipers, and then she was gone.
The tide has been unusually high, bad news for turtles. Nests have been inundated and washed away, and few hatchlings have been seen yet. We can only hope that some of those 118 eggs will hatch and begin a life cycle that can last 100 or more years. Our turtle will probably return to the beach several more times this season to deposit more eggs, before heading back to sea for another four years until she returns again to lay eggs in Jalova, the place of her own birth.
Back in camp, Adam, who hails from Denmark, had the honor of naming her. He chose to call her Freja, after the Norsk goddess of beauty and fertility.
Thus concluding one of many successful night walks!
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