Sea Turtle Hatching in Thailand
This year on Koh Phra Thong, three nests have been found so far, all on beach 1. We believe they are all from one individual green turtle, as they were laid exactly 12 days apart. When Naucrates staff or volunteers find a turtle track, we first try to ascertain whether it leads to a nest. Finally, we cover up the tracks, ensuring to mark the position of the nest in a way that will be recognisable us. And then we wait….
Nest 1 had been found on New Year’s Eve and so was due to hatch from 19th of February onwards, as green turtles have an incubation period of 50 – 60 days. As the 19th came and went, were we all staring at one spot in the sand, looking for any kind of movement or a cone to appear. The days began to drag on and a week later, both Naucrates staff and volunteers were nervous as there were no changes to the nest yet. Then suddenly, on the 27th, our Research Assistant, Nikki, came bouncing back from her morning walk down beach 1, announcing “the nest has begun to show a cone!” We all jumped on the boat and headed back to the fieldstation to prepare from a night of sleeping on the beach. Staff and volunteers camped there for two nights, joined by Ton from the Phuket Marine Biological centre. We take shifts in staying awake to observe the nest and lookout for hatchlings. Seven healthy hatchlings were weighed, measured and then released out to sea, escorted by Naucrates volunteers.
After the second night of camping, we were joined by several GBB who came to watch as our Field Leader, Maxi, and Ton excavated the nest. Inside, we found 65 egg shells, which meant 65 turtles had hatched out and left the nest. Although the total number of eggs was quite small, a very good proportion of turtles made it out successfully, so overall everyone was very happy!
The day of the first excavation also marked 50 days of nest 2, so immediately we were once again on the lookout for any changes to the nest. On 2nd March, on day 55 of the incubation, the nest began to show a cone. Once again, it was off to the beach for staff and volunteers. Only 2 turtles emerged on the first night of camping and none at all on the second! The excavation revealed that 55 turtles had successfully left the nest.
We did not have to wait long for the third nest, as it hatched on March 13th. Volunteer Pia and I were walking beach 1 when we saw the cone with so many hatchling tracks coming out, it was completely impossible to count them! Word quickly spread that the nest was hatching and even though it was some of the volunteers first day, everyone still wanted to camp out on the beach. When we returned to the nest, the new tracks made it clear that two more turtles had left that afternoon. We stayed on the beach for two more nights, but no more turtles emerged. When it came to the excavation, nobody was prepared for how successful this nest would be! 93 turtles had fully hatched out of the nest .
This is a very high success rate for green turtle nests, so we hope to see this particular green turtle in the future!
It’s not the end of the season yet and we’re still patrolling the beaches both on Koh Phra Thong and Koh Ra on the lookout for more tracks and remaining ever hopeful. To date, by protecting and monitoring the nests, Naucrates staff and volunteers have helped over 200 green turtle hatchlings make it out to the sea, which we believe gives them the best possible start in life. Thanks to everyone for their help and support, we couldn’t do it with you!
Working as assistant for Naucrates
After being a volunteer for various conservation projects it was a dream come true to get a job working for a conservation project, but I never knew how many of my dreams would be realised in taking on this role.
Conservation work can often be frustrating and slow, unfortunately man can destroy areas in a matter of years, months, weeks, or even days, but to conserve areas takes generations. It was great to join an organization that has already been working in the area for the past 16 years and their presence is having an impact. Locals knew about us through various means of education, or from directly working with us, and we would often have one of them turn up at the field station with a fresh water turtle they had found, as they knew we were collecting data on them. We would promptly take measurements and photos and then release the turtle back into the wild.
Camping next to our first green turtle nest of the season was magic, it felt like conservation as its most basic and necessary level; we were there to ensure that no one came to take the eggs.
Then every day without fail we continued to walk the beaches and watch that our nest did not get disturbed, as well as looking for more signs of turtle nests, of which a further two were found whilst I was there. I became very maternal over those nests and was thankfully given the opportunity to stay after my contract ended to watch two of the nests hatch. What an experience! Again we camped next to our nests and took it in turns to try to sleep ensuring someone was keeping an eye on the nest. Watching these tiny but strong and determined little turtles run to sea was inspiring. As conservationists we need to show the same determination that they had in reaching the sea to ensure that this natural phenomenon continues to happen. All we could do at that point was wish them ‘chok dee’ (good luck in Thai) on their voyage into adulthood, and hope they manage to avoid the many hazards we humans have put in their way.
We had many fantastic volunteers come and help the team during my stay. This project needs the funding generated by the volunteers to ensure that it exists. In addition the volunteers help to provide an alternative source of income for locals as part of the money they pay goes to the families they stay with whilst they are here. I loved meeting so many different people, some who were breaking out of their comfort zones and learning something new to others who also hope to follow the conservation ’career’ path. Thanks to all of you who helped the team, we appreciate all you did.
The Island of Prah Thong is a special place with diverse ecosystems, a large variety of wildlife (otters, deer, eagles, parrots, sea snakes, dolphins, and monitor lizards are just a few of the creatures that we spotted when I was there), stunning sunrises and sunsets, and the incredibly warm welcome you receive from the locals. I will miss it terribly, leaving has been very hard, and more than anything I hope to return next season. Thanks to the Naucrates team, I wish you continued luck for the rest of the season.
Volunteering and exploring the pristine habitats of Koh Ra
March has been a month of discovery on the mysterious island of Koh Ra. Naucrates volunteers have spent precious time exploring the pristine habitats of Koh Ra and learning about the broad diversity of organisms that make up the interconnected ecosystems of the island.
Regular bird watching surveys in the savannah have been clocking up the species list, with over 80 different species recorded in the local area so far……
Tom, Naucrates assistant, is keeping us informed writing a blog where you can find the entire article http://kohraecolodge.com/content/march-koh-ra-our-eyes-wide-open
Volunteer story: turtle calling
Luckily for me, the bus left on time and after only a minor panic, arrived in the deserted Kuraburi station four hours later. It was a short taxi ride to the pier. I then boarded a longtail boat – whether it was bound for Koh Phra Thong or not, it felt good to be heading back out on the water…an hour or so later I arrived at the pier in Lions Village and was greeted by Maxi, Rebecca and Joe – all my fears quickly dissolved.
My first impression of the village was its strange uniformity, with the concrete houses and the poker-straight roads – but Lions Village is not without charm – from the little front gardens to the quiet and friendly way the villagers go about their business…and of course the dogs (Krang, Dog Dog, Squeaky and Sonny).
Soon I was introduced to Ou. Her and her family were to be my wonderful hosts for the next month.
Hot, sticky and tired, I was content to have made it to my new home.
We get up and board our very own longtail boat (at bleary-eyed 0530) driven by Urt – the most skilful and most laidback boat driver I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. We then jump out at our designated beaches and as the sun rises we walk…and walk, with the thought of our picnic breakfast firmly in our minds.
“Ah, so you get a lie-in if you’re on observations?”
“Breakfast is at 0730 – you will need to leave the village by about 0800.” This sounded good.
We get on our bikes and head out into the savannah. After a few kilometres we turn off where a sign points to “Mr Choui – Bar & Huts”. We walk the remainder of the beach and climb Hornbill Hill, where we sit for a couple of sweaty and dusty hours watching the sea intently for turtles and any other interesting marine life. As I said, it can be hot – very hot, but that first glimpse of a turtle makes it all worthwhile.
At first, for the first day or so, you take a “normal” sized portion. However…and trust me on this…you will soon start going back for seconds and even thirds! This is testament to Lamion’s fabulous cooking and a result of the strenuous morning activities.
Every meal time we amble to Lamion’s house and we are presented with an array of tasty dishes – my personal favourites have to be the green curry with little aubergines and the banana fritters – oh and of course, the breakfast banana pancakes… mmmmmm! All hopes of weight loss were quickly dashed….
The Main Event:
This is what we had all been waiting for.
I had timed my arrival at Naucrates perfectly – I could not have planned it better – after only a few days, nest 2 began to “cone”. The news of this event was rapidly passed from the Beach 1 walkers to the rest of the team – the initial excitement had begun!
Preparation for Camping:
The heavens opened and the rain came down in buckets…urghh, this was not going to be a comfortable night under the stars (if I could have actually seen them!). However, as we packed our overnight bags and made our preparations, the rain slowed and actually stopped just in time for our 1630 departure – phew.
Maxi, Rebecca, Nikki, Pau & I, clambered onto the boat and headed out to nest 2 – our resting place (well, not so much resting….) for the night. We set up our camp, such that it was, some plastic sheets and ponchos – covering ourselves with our clothes and sarongs in an attempt to beat the sandflies at their game. We tucked into our dinner and then waited…
So, this was it…Nikki announced the arrival of the hatchlings with the cry of “Babies guys!”. We all rose from our make-shift beds to be greeted by the tiny green turtle hatchlings scrambling out of the nest cone with complete determination. Throughout the taking of their vital stats (length, width and depth of the carapace and their weight) neither of the two hatchlings paused for breath…their flippers waving frantically in their weightlessness.
Once all the measurements had been recorded, the hatchlings were free to begin their march to the sea by the light of the near-full moon. We followed their progress, shielding them from rogue crabs and any other imminent dangers. As they were washed into the waves – I wished them a “Bon Voyage”.
These were to be the only two hatchlings from the nest that night. As it turned out, the others (all 72 of them) had escaped the nest the night before. However, I felt so privileged to have witnessed this most magical event – a memory that will last a lifetime.
SEASTAR2000 workshop in Bangkok
Monica Aureggi, as project director, participated to the International Symposium on SEASTAR2000 and Asian Bio-logging Science since 2001. The aim of the symposium is to promote the exchange of knowledge and experiences among researchers in ASEAN countries and Japan to perform SEASTAR2000 project and related projects.
The projects focuses on different aspect of sea turtle migration, conservation, dugong and other animals. Proceedings of the workshop can be downloaded at http://repository.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dspace/bulletin/seastar2000
The SEASTAR Symposium represents an event where we can exchange our finding and discuss about collaboration or startegies with other collegues.
In February 2012, Alessandra De Lucia (Naucrates collaborator) attended the workshop in Bangkok presenting a paper with title: CONSERVATION ACTIONS IN A SMALL SEA TURTLE FEEDING AREA AT PHRA THONG ISLAND, THAILAND.
Alessandra showed the result of the current study on sea turtle behavioural observations at Phra Thong island. The data collected in six seasons confirmed the importance of this area as sea turtle feeding ground. On the other hand, the area is used by local fishermen, by tourist coming for snorkeling trips and recently by divers. The human impact is increasing year by year threatening one of the remaining areas suitable for sea turtle feeding ground. Naucrates in collaboration with local communities and the Phuket Marine Biological Center, requested to mark the area with floating buoys and to declare it as locally marine protected area in order to control and restrict the human impacts.
Naucrates would like to thank Arai, Nobuaki (Dr.), Graduate School of Informatics, Kyoto University for organizing this annual event.
Thank you for donations
We want to thank all parties that have given material or financial donations to Naucrates sea turtle project this season. Our regular Italian sponsor Ferrino once again donated day back bags, hammocs, bicycle tools and many other important items needed in Thailand, but this season we also received few led-lights that have solar panels in them for charging from Australian company Illuminator. These have been handy in early mornings when there is no electricity and most importantly they are ecological.
The whole Lions village received Katadyn water filtering systems from Andaman Discoveries, Phuket Patong Beach Rotary Club and the Swiss manufacturer. Project also received one to allow us to filter drinking water from rain water.
Besides these important material donations, a Finnish tour operator Finnmatkat sponsored two volunteers to the project through Ekomatkaajat and additionally donated 1000 euro for the project. This donation is used for the boat and boat driver costs for two months and also to improve the Community Conservation Centre in the Lions village.
Andaman Discoveries (Planeterra) has funded several smaller projects this season, the tortoise survey, KoRa monitoring and Children’s Environmental Education program. Several visitors and volunteers have donated also smaller amounts to help the project and we aim to raise more funds through Naucrates 10-anniversary campaign to ensure that the project can keep running in future
If you are interested in donating money for the project, please check Naucrates webpage for the donation details. We also appreciate any help with fundraising, so do let us know about possibilities to apply for grants and if you know interested parties that can help the project with material or money donations.
Photo: Volunteer Heikki Mahlamäki delivered the Finnmatkat 1000? donation “check” to Naucrates staff, Marjut and Joe.