One of the duties of Ocean Spirits is to be around for any hotline calls. Many times people on the island will call if they see a turtle caught in fishing lines, nesting in the middle of the day, or sometimes even if there’s a turtle in a local market. So we had a call that there was a turtle caught in these fishermen’s lines. We hurried up and got in the car and headed on our way. However, this turtle was halfway up the island, over an hour away. So our vet ended up beating us there and the fishermen had already cut their lines and got the turtle out, and after our vet took the measurements and got her tags and everything, he let her go. So by the time we got there, we missed the turtle. But regardless it was a really cool story because rarely will fishermen sacrifice their lines for a turtle. Most of the time they will cut the turtle before they cut their lines. Seeing this change firsthand was pretty awesome. The bay the turtle was in was also absolutely gorgeous and secluded. The drive down to it was very scary because it was like a straight down dirt road.
There was another part to the beach on the other side of a rocky outcropping so we went there to check to make sure she didn’t go up to that beach. To get there however, was an absolute hike. We had to basically climb down a cliff. And the fishermen literally do that hike up and down the cliff every day. The beach was also super pretty and untouched, but it was COVERED in sargassum seaweed.
You would literally sink into the seaweed and it came up to almost my ankles. We ended up finding a hawksbill nest up the beach and are going to have to go back when it is closer to hatching because there is no way the hatchling could make it to the sea with all that seaweed. It sucked I was not able to actually see the turtle and help it, but it was cool to see some other parts of the island.
Rivers Rum is one of the 3 rum distilleries on the island of Grenada. It is completely organic and uses only sugar cane to create alcohol. It is a really fascinating and long process, that also seems a bit unsanitary at times. But their most famous rum is 75% alcohol and it is completely illegal to fly anywhere with 75% alcoholic rum. So they also make a slightly watered down version that is 69%. They also make rum punch that is around 16% and is mostly juice. All the sugar cane is pushed through a compressor and the juice runs off to another place where it ferments. All the sugar cane then decomposes and becomes fertilizers for their sugar cane fields.
The alcohol goes through a bunch of other processes that I did not really understand but it was pretty cool.
At the end of the tour we got to try three different kinds : 69%, 75%, and passionfruit rum punch. He has us start with the 69% then go to 75% then the rum punch. Rivers rum is also supposed to be a guaranteed no hang over alcohol, which is quite interesting. He also says the Caribbean secret to drinking is drinking tap water with your alcohol, which most people knew I think?? But he also says the 75% is for shots, DO NOT MIX it. Mixing it with Coke is an absolute disgrace. After the two other ones, the rum punch tasted like juice.
After the rum factory, we went to the Belmont Estates which is a very fancy chocolate factory. It is a gorgeous place with a huge restaurant and is very much a popular tourist destination. It was really cool to see all the cocoa beans and hear about the long process that it goes through to become chocolate as well.
When we came back, I got to watch a goat give birth too! One of my supervisor’s goats had two babies and it was the weirdest and cutest thing I have ever witnessed.
On Wednesday we went to a local school to teach 11-12 year olds about turtles and their own local environment. The school was really small and classrooms were separated by flimsy screens that acted as whiteboards and chalkboards. My project supervisor gave the kids a small presentation on Ocean Spirits and what we do. And then explained a little about the species of turtles that are found on their island. After this I gave all the students the letters and pictures my mom’s class had colored and wrote them. They read a few of them out loud and I explained what my mom was teaching her students and why. We then took them outside and played a trivia game that had questions from the powerpoint on it and afterwards they all got some American candy, courtesy of my mom’s students, as well. Later that night we went to a neighboring town and watched the cricket matches. I do not really know what is going on during it, but there are a lot of dogs around that I can pet and play with that so that is mainly why I go. There are A LOT of strays here. All the dogs look almost exactly the same, just different colors. In this town though, some vet students came and gave them all flea and tick collars and let people come take their dogs for rabies vaccines and other shots. So some people try to help, but there is still a lot of fighting and inbreeding and homeless dogs. Animals in general are just rarely well taken care of. Goats and cows will be tied up in the same area all day with no shade, no water, and only eat what they can scavenge up. Goats and cows are worth a lot of money though, so people are a lot nicer to them then they are the dogs. It is definitely something that I am having to get used too.
Twice a week we do a morning survey of Bathway Beach, the local public beach. We head down there around 5:30 a.m. and bring two rakes. This survey is not as intensive as the night survey on Levera. We walk the length of the beach looking for tracks and if we see any we just rake it out and tell the supervisors at the house. It is pretty simple and aside from the long walk down and the long walk back up to the house, really relaxing because you just get to walk a beach. Only a small part of Bathway is used for swimming because there is an artificial reef that blocks most of the bigger waves and protects swimmers from the strong current. This is the beginning of the beach and not many people utilize this end at all. Even in the picture you can see all the trash that washed ashore. Walking the whole length of the beach is very disheartening because there is just so much trash. This is the other end of the beach that also doesn’t get used very much. This part of the beach had a lot of sargassum seaweed. Sargassum is a brown ugly seaweed that just covers beaches. I am told that it even smells sometimes when there is a lot, but I have not smelt it yet. The part of the beach where you swim is very pretty though, (as they usually are the better kept areas) with little seaweed because of the artificial reef. It has some umbrellas set up and a beach bar and a little place with a few places to get some local food.
I have yet to see any hatchlings yet on my night survey, but I do have a picture of a dead one to show so far. This hatchling came out after the sun was already up so the researcher who saw it, but it in a bucket with sand to take home so we could release it at night, but the turtle did not make it through the day. It was already too cooked. Hatchlings need to hatch at night or else the hot sand and sun will literally cook them alive. Also as a tip, if you ever see baby turtles at night, do not use artificial light because you confuse them. Red is the least bothering of lights to turtles, they can still see it, but it is not as bothersome to them as bright white light. Also, let the baby make the trip to the sea. If you pick it up and bring it straight in, it will either drown, or never imprint on the beach it was born, so when it comes time for nesting season, they will have no idea where to go back too. The turtles can drown because the trip across the sand gives them a chance to stretch out their muscles and their lungs and gives them enough movement to be able to handle 2-3 day trip out to open ocean. My last picture is of an adult female digging her nest with her two back flippers. This picture does not even do justice the huge size of these animals. I have only done two night surveys so far and I have only seen 3 turtles personally which is really unfortunate. This is peak laying season, and the amount of turtles coming every night is decreasing rather than increasing which is really scary. However, I go out again tonight, so hopefully I will see some turtles and maybe even some hatchlings.
I arrived in Grenada around 2:00 pm on Saturday, went through Customs relatively quickly (there was only my plane of people), and then had to get my bags and find my taxi driver that was going to take us to the worksite. Where I am in Grenada is on the complete opposite end of where the airport is. So I had to take a very scary almost two hour long ride across the island. In Grenada they drive on the opposite side of the ride and the roads are very very small. So there was a lot of ups and downs, slowing down and speeding up and honking when rounding corners to see if another car was coming. However it was super awesome to be able to see the whole island and see the different towns. The next day I had orientation and training all day where I learned all the stuff I am going to be doing. The following day was my first night survey, but I did not have to be ready for that until about 7 pm. So we rode into the closest town where they do all our grocery shopping and explored a little. The town is called Sauteurs and there’s a school there and a bunch of shops and a really nice beach. And then I hung out at the house until the sun set and it was time to head to Levera Beach. The sun sets pretty early here in Grenada so by the time we got there it was already very dark. There were seven of us total, so we split into four and three. We went on the first run and started the trek up the beach. Within ten minutes we saw our first leatherback. She had just emerged from the sea and was deciding where she wanted to lay. So we kept our distance and moved on to keep checking the rest of the beach. A little ways away we had another leatherback. She had just finished laying and was burying her eggs with her back flippers. So we checked her tag numbers and her microchip number, took some measurements and headed back to see the other turtle. She had chosen her spot and had already finished with her body pit. Turtles make body pits with all four flippers and just try to settle themselves in the sand and dig out a little area for themselves. When digging the nest they only use their back flippers. So we checked her microchip and waited for her to stop digging to get the ID tags from her back flipper area. Once she started laying, I got to lay on my stomach and with a glove and clicker reach right into the nest and under her to catch her eggs as they came out. I would catch and click, catch and click. I did this over 100 times. However towards the end the turtles start to have tinier and tinier eggs, these are called yolkless. we had to keep track of the number of yolkless in our heads. Once she was done laying, and started burying her eggs we took measurements. One of the cool things about this project, is there are usually tourist groups who come out until about midnight to be able to see the eggs and the turtles. They watched us as we did everything and took pictures. They are led by locals who also work on the Ocean Spirits projects. It is pretty important that people see these kinds of things and know how important they are. And they we headed back up the beach and the other team waited 30 minutes to head out. While we wait, we get to sleep in this house that never quite became a house. So we lay on the floor and surprisingly after all that dredging through sand, you sleep. Then you wake up and walk the beach again. Once you get to the end you sit and you wait 30 minutes, and you head back. We went two more runs after our first but didn’t see another turtle. As the sun started to come up, we grab rakes and head back to the nesting spots. We rake out her tracks from the sea, her body pit, and the large area she “camouflages” by moving sand around. Then we measure the distance of the nest to the sea line, the vegetation line, and the two markers it is between. Then we head back, get in the car, and go home. I have other jobs and responsibilities as well, but night surveys are the main one. The rest of my time will be spent tending to other small jobs, resting, and going to the beach. Which is a pretty great way to spend three weeks. The only downsides are I probably won’t stop sweating for three weeks straight, and I got over 30 mosquito bites in the span of an hour while night surveying. But it’ll be fine.
This is going to be a way I can update all of you on my trip! I will try to update as much as a possible, but I am not sure what kind of service or time I will have. I have also never had a blog before, so please bear with me!! Currently it is the day before I leave for Grenada, well Miami first, and I am getting really excited, but also very nervous. My mom’s fourth grade students have put together a care package for me to bring to Grenada to give the kids there. They have also made pledges to skip the straw which is amazing! Within the care package they have collected notebooks and pencils and quite a bit American candy.