Back on Koh Phra Thong

beach1I came first time to this island 10 years ago as a 2-week volunteer. I had one previous volunteer experience from Costa-Rica and I always remember my Wow! -feeling when I was introduced to the project location, accommodation and especially breakfast choices at GBB resort.

We had fairly large group of 10 or so volunteers from different parts of the world, of different ages and different experiences, teachers, limo driver, scientist, students, biologists, IT specialists etc. Many had come without any previous turtle experience, so on that respect we were all novices.

Project work was well organized. Okay we did wait for the boat to check Koh Ra beaches with Alessandra two mornings and ended up eating our breakfast while we waited and waited and no boat. Oh, and the observation buoys. They would just not stay put. But it did not matter so much, some things you just can’t control.

OR babyOn this first season, I monitored the beach with another volunteer one morning and we found an Olive Ridley nest on beach 3. We almost missed it, while talking. Yes, keep your eye on the sand while you check the beach as the track is only about 50-100cm wide. We got first-hand experience in locating the egg chamber and carrying delicate eggs to a new nest location in a safer place.

But the project was not just that, it was so much more for me. It changed my life. It was a very important step on the path that I took from there. I returned to the project as a volunteer next season, now 3 other project experiences in my pocket. I quit my job and started to work on recruiting other volunteers to sea turtle conservation projects. Came back to work as a field leader on the Island for several seasons until 2013. I cried when I left Koh Phra Thong as I thought it was the last time.

maxiThis past season was the 20th anniversary of the project and Monica asked some of us “oldies” if we would help. And without much hesitation I said yes. On the 5th of December 2016, I went back. I was a bit scared that things have changed a lot and I don’t like the place anymore, but luckily it was not the case. Yes, there are more bungalow places on the beach now, but they are in a small area. Still no sun umbrellas and plastic sunbeds anywhere. I walked the beaches in the morning and there was nobody there. Only for a short moment during the New Year, Thai tourists showed up with quadbikes and motor dinghies. But they seemed to be more for the show than actual use.

There were some small improvements to the infrastructure, more solar power and wifi as well as addition to the pier at Lions village. But then there were still the holes in the concrete road, wading through the channels when the tide is high, “no sun, no wifi” at Nok’s, monkeys who stole the observation pillows, and waiting for the boat or the car. There were still the amazing Lesser Adjutants levitating in the sky, turtles coming to feed at observation rocks, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, incredible food cooked by Lamion, PaNee and Lory’s kitchen staff. There are still the wildlife surprises and great encounters with similar minded people.

I was happy to be back. And this time when I left a month later, I did not cry. I was sad to leave, but I know I will be back. Soon.

Marjut

The Yay Day!

The voice of children laughter in Baan Lion woke me up that morning. I opened my eyes and looked around in my new homestay room. It was already bright outside and I smiled. Why? Because that day was the first day I did not have to wake up at 5 a.m to walk 10 km on the beach. It was my third day volunteering with Naucrates in Koh Phra Thong, Thailand.

I got ready lazily and walked to the Naucrates field station at the village. Some other volunteers were already there, and there was Barry – a Canadian researcher who spoke fluent Thai and had been helping Naucrates for the last few years. I had a good feeling that morning and asked with a big smile “Turtle tracks today?” There had not been any turtle tracks for the last few days, so the answer was probably no, but the answer that I got from Barry was surprising, “They found a turtle nest today.” Did he say turtle nest? Turtle nest!! For real? It was the first turtle nest in the season, and also the first one for the staff after walking the beach 10 km every day for the last 50 days!

Last night we had already arranged some activities for volunteers that day, but after the nest finding the schedule changed. Now everyone was too excited to check the nest. According to Mr. Thep, a Thai villager who monitored the beach every morning, the nest was too close to the sea and the eggs might have to be relocated to a safer location. So around 10.45 a.m all 6 volunteers and 2 staff went to the nest site. It was my first time seeing a track and a nest of a wild turtle. Looking at the size and patterns created on the sand, Andrea – Naucrates field leader – concluded it was a green turtle that laid the eggs. We took measurement of the track and based on the shell’s width, it was probably the same turtle who came to the shore and left a track a few days before. If I had seen a turtle nest on a beach before that day, there was no way I would thought it would have been one because it did not look like a nest at all (at least in my opinion).

Mr. Thep was right about the need to relocate the eggs as the nest was only a few meters from the sea during low tide, but according to Andrea it had to be done when the weather was cooler. The temperature that morning was over 30°C and the eggs and embryos should not be exposed to such a high temperature. So we came back to the same nest site at 5 p.m, chose a new site not far from the nest but far enough from the sea so we did not have to worry about high tide. We cleaned the new site for relocation from debris and vegetation, but then when we were ready to dig the nest and take the eggs, it started to rain heavily and we did not want to soak the eggs to the rain water too, so we waited again.

Finally the rain passed and Andrea started digging the nest, looking for the egg chamber. Within 5 minutes he reached the top of the egg chamber and we saw a couple of turtle eggs emerged out from the sand in the hole that Andrea dug.

Now here comes the tricky part: relocating the eggs. Ideally, the eggs have to be relocated to a new “nest” with minimum change during the moving, as minimum as possible. So we tried to create a new “nest” as similar as possible to the original nest. They ought to have the same measurement, dimension, and depth, as well as temperature and humidity. The egg position and their order should not change as well. Andrea took the first egg on top, carefully placed it on the sand without rotating it, then Etienne – Naucrates volunteer coordinator – carefully took the egg and put it in an egg tray that we had prepared, again without rotating it otherwise the egg would not hatch. The first egg tray was filled with turtle eggs within 10 minutes, and within the next 50 minutes, just after a stunning sunset, we’ve got 113 green turtle eggs ready to be relocated.

After taking notes of the dimension of the original nest, Andrea dug a new “nest” following the real nest dimension and together with Etienne they put the turtle eggs, one by one, in reversed order, inside the artificial egg chamber that had just been made. After all the eggs were put inside, we covered the artificial nest with sand, took its exact location with GPS and backed it up with a method called triangulation where the distance of the relocated nest to two nearest trees to form a triangle were measured.

The whole relocation progress took over two hours and we finished after dark, drenched in the rain, with feet full of sandfly bites, but we felt accomplished with the first nest relocation today. Now, we hope to see over 100 hatchlings in the next 50-60 days and more nests from the same turtle in the next two weeks!

By Liz, volunteer with Naucrates (January 16th – 31st 2016)