On a Monday evening, the Turtle Monitoring volunteers took turns patrolling one of the beaches where turtles often come ashore to lay. Unfortunately, in recent years, the top of this beach (the best place for turtles to lay eggs as they will be safe from high tides) has become overgrown with invasive grass, making it very difficult for them to dig their nest. During the patrol, a large hawksbill turtle came ashore. This female had been seen on the beach the previous day attempting, and failing, to nest amongst the grass.
Once ashore, she again headed for the grass at the top of the beach where she tried to several times to dig. Concerned about the potential for her to dump her eggs if she was unable to nest again, Turtle Monitoring staff and volunteers decided to assist her. Commando crawling on the ground, volunteers were able slowly and quietly get into place behind her, out of sight. Being careful not to disturb her, volunteers were able to remove the grass and roots whilst she dug. Turtles have extremely powerful flippers so volunteers were showered with sand, dirt and grass during this task. Once the hole reached approximately 70cm, she stopped digging and began to lay her eggs. Turtle Monitoring volunteers were able to lay just centimetres behind her and watching this amazing moment.
Once her laying was complete, she began to fill in her nest hole. Whilst she was filling her hole, volunteers took the opportunity to measure the length and width of her carapace (shell). She was an impressive 88cm long and 78cm wide (including the curve of her shell). This is the safest stage at which to measure a nesting turtle as they are intent on their work and hard to distract. After the hole was filled, she dragger herself back down the beach and returned to the ocean. Unfortunately, the grass surrounding the nest would prevent the hatchlings from being able to dig their way out after their 60-day incubation period. The decision was made by staff to move the nest to a more suitable location.
The Turtle Monitoring volunteers prepped a new nest location nearby by digging a wide hole of a similar depth to the original nest. They also readied the transfer bucket (a wide, shallow bucket with holes at the bottom to allow for drainage) by filling it partially with sand. The nest was then gently dug up, and the eggs carefully removed one by one and placed into the transfer bucket. The eggs were carefully counted as they were transferred to the bucket, with a total of 138 eggs collected. The eggs were then covered over with sand and dirt from the original nest. The entire bucket was the placed into the prepared hole and the hole filled in.
A structure to prevent the disturbance of the nest by feral animals was constructed out of bamboo and placed over the nest. Staff and volunteers celebrated the success of the delicate task and returned back to camp filthy but thrilled. Hawksbill turtles are one of the key species focused on by the Turtle Monitoring Program due to their status as critically endangered. It was a privilege to help protect these eggs and their mother. The great news is that we have now received permission to clear the grass and return the beach to its original sandy state, perfect for turtle nesting!
If you want to help protect and conserve sea turtles then check out our new Volunteer Sea Turtle Monitoring Program for more information!