With the summer fast approaching there is lots of excitement about the upcoming turtle nesting season, myself and four other lucky members of the GSTC family are spending some time during this nesting season a bit differently. We will be heading to St. Kitts in the Caribbean to lend a helping flipper to the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network. I arrived here on April 11th and we will continue to send some GA turtle power down to assist with peak leatherback nesting season until June.
Dr. Norton and Dr. Stewart formed a collaborative with Ross University in 2005 and started performing nest monitoring, health assessments and training workshops for veterinarians in the Caribbean. With the completion of the GSTC and the hospitality of Dr. Stewart we have been able to expand the collaborative to include sending some additional flippers to Dr. Stewart to help with the nesting program. We also plan to continue the veterinary training workshops as well!
Upon arrival here I jumped right in assisting with nightly patrols and tagging of the female leatherbacks that come to nest on Cayon to Keys Beach here on St. Kitts. Much like what we do at Jekyll Island, we hit the beach at approx. 8:00pm and then patrol (on foot!) until 6:00am. Any females that are encountered are given a complete physical exam, get blood taken for a health assessment, and a new pair of tags for identification. Nest location is also recorded, and eggs are relocated if they are deemed not to be in a safe location.
Last night, we were treated to an extra special event! We stepped foot on the beach and found 8 crawls! It was practically a leatherback arribada! We quickly processed those and then the long night was on. At 4:00am, we decided it was time to head home after one last lap. On our way back to the vehicles we saw a female just starting to make her way up out of the water. We sat and watched as she found her way up the beach and started to dig. Once she started laying eggs we jumped into action and tagged her, did her exam, and took all the needed data. Her carapace alone was approx. 5 feet long! We thought it couldn’t get any better but then the sun started to come up and we were treated again! We got to watch this lovely lady return to her watery home in the daylight. She surfaced 4 or 5 times on her way out as we danced happily across the beach!
There was time for one last picture of the weary but ecstatic team before we found our way off the beach and into our beds!
What an adventure this all is! I’m very fortunate to be able to have this experience and the honor to represent the GSTC and to work with the Dr. Kimberly Stewart and her great team that comprise the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network!
~Jeannie Miller, Aquarist- on location in St. Kitts, West Indies!