A Turtley Awesome Blog…Dude!

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We were walking the dogs along the beach one evening when Andrea frantically ran towards us bringing news from Glenn. Glenn is a friend on the island who acts as a guardian to the Hawksbill turtle nests on Pumpkin Hill beach and had discovered one was soon to hatch! When we arrived at the nest site we were greeted by Glenn’s dog. This dog has been trained to act as a turtle body guard and patiently sits with the hatching turtles, keeping away other dogs and even the occasional crab that might make a meal of the hatchlings. It’s very cute to see how protective she is of the nests.

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Judy watching and waiting for the turtles to emerge

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Just as eager as the dog to see the turtles

Our initial hurry to get to the nest seemed somewhat ridiculous after we spent the first hour staring at a nondescript patch of sand, waiting for action. It was after this time that we saw the first bit of movement, half an hour later the first turtle struggled its way to the surface of the nest, followed by swarms and swarms of the beautiful creatures, all frantically and gracelessly crawling to the water’s edge.

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An hour later and we were still waiting… now with extra layers because of the cold!

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Finally they began to emerge!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The lucky turtle who saw the world before the others!

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Not long after the rest followed

Our job was basically to herd them towards the sea. We created a runway using driftwood and palms to make sure they took a direct route and didn’t extend the already 20 meters run to the water. A few of the weaker turtles needed some encouragement and a few unlucky ones fell over onto their backs during the struggle. Fortunately we were on hand to help them out.

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The runway we created to guide the turtles to their new home

The turtles are clearly poor planners as they picked a day with a particularly rough tide on which to hatch. This meant that most of them had quite a hard time breaking out into the surf without being dumped right back on the beach. One in particular found the trip pretty tough as it had a little stumpy flipper. After a good while watching him run around in circles I gave in and helped him into the ocean. As a general rule it’s best not to interfere too much with nature and it can sometimes be best to let it take its course, however with the Hawksbill Turtle being endangered I thought saving the weaker ones and giving them even the tiniest of chances was worth depriving one of the many crabs a meal they didn’t particularly need!

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The turtle I helped out

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Making their way to the sea together

I have been here such a short time and to be able to witness something this incredible makes me feel unfathomably lucky. I only have a few weeks left on the island and to have my part in escorting 177 endangered turtles safely to the sea is an honour I did not expect. This island has such an amazing range of wildlife and its awesome to be able to play a part in preserving that.

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I hope I gave my new friend a good start to life. Good luck little one!

 

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Hanging Out With Bats

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Aside from Iguana research Kanahau are carrying out research into some of the other animals on the island. I’ve been working on a population study of the island’s bats. With the study coming to an end we have so far recorded 12 different species on the island and the results are likely going to be published next year.

Catching bats is a much easier affair than catching iguanas and makes bat days a welcome rest from the days spent in the mangroves. We assemble ‘mist nets’ in the flight paths of the bats. We set up the fine mesh nets before sun down and then all there is left to do is wait for the bats to emerge. As the light gradually deserts the land and leaves us in darkness the first few bats start to venture out in search of food. When the bats inevitably begin to tangle themselves up in our nets we begin to ‘process’ them. This involves identifying the species, weighing, measuring and marking the bat before releasing it off to go about its business as if undisturbed. When handling the bats it’s very important to do so carefully, their limbs seem particularly fragile and damaging them is the last thing we’d want to do. It’s also imperative to avoid getting bitten. Bats are susceptible to becoming carriers of rabies. None of the bats seem to be in any way aggressive and I have all of the necessary jabs, so I am basically safe, but its best to be careful!

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Andrea carefully retrieving a bat from the net

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Checking out the bat before taking measurements

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I currently live in Kanahau ‘mission control’, which is located next to the bat caves of Pumpkin hill. In the caves it becomes quite obvious that these animals have no understanding of the concept of personal space, each one flying as close to you as possible for closer inspection of the alien creature changing the usual landscape of their homes. At the start it felt a lot like I was Christian Bale discovering the Bat Cave in Batman Begins, it can be quite nerve racking, especially when you first begin to move around and before you learn that the bats probably aren’t going to crash into you any time soon.

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A bat just pushing off from the roof of the cave

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Lots of flying bats!!

The caves are a fantastic resource for us to use as they have an extensive network of tunnels and chambers in which house many different species of bats. One of which we believe to be the impressive False Vampire Bat. This is a huge bat that feeds on mammals, birds, reptiles and even other bat species (unlike the true vampire bat which consumes only the blood). As of yet I haven’t seen one of these fascinating bats, but we are encouraged by the amount of guano (bat poo) that they’re leaving behind in the caves. False Vampire Bat guano is distinguishable as within the stool is often remains of undigested animal, feathers or some fur for example, lovely! Despite this one remaining ever illusive, I’ve still managed to get a few decent photos from the caves.

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Greater False Vampire Bat seen in March 2014 (photo taken by Steve Clayson)

The work being done here with the bats however, is sadly being stifled by the lack of software for a piece of equipment (Wildlife acoustics SM2) that was recently donated to the project. The software allows them to identify bat species by the noise of their calls, with this they would be able to improve their population study and be certain that there aren’t any sneaky species avoiding capture. We also lack and are wanting to building a harp trap, this is significant as certain bats are able to avoid our mist nets and this trap may allow us to catch the bats we have been unable to before. Because of this it is quite possible that our 12 species might actually be 13 or 14 species.

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Me and Kathy about to climb down from the bat caves

This is both terribly frustrating and genuinely exciting. It is frustrating to see important research being slowed down by a lack of equipment and with so much research to be done on this island it seems budgeting for each project and acquiring funds is a very difficult task. It is however encouraging that with the eventual acquisition of these resources, there may be more secrets to be uncovered from this island. An island this bio-diverse and an organization with such a vast scope of research means there are so many opportunities for incredibly exciting projects here.

Bats are responsible for the pollination of many plants on the island and are responsible for the distribution of the seeds from the forests, which are constantly under threat of being chopped down by short sighted developers and locals who are unaware to their importance in balancing the island’s ecology. Therefore, Kanahau envisages that future conservation efforts need to be focused on education.

 

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Waiting for the perfect shot

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Capturing these beautiful animals in flight