The team are now all together in Pacuare Field Station and the first two days of briefings and instruction have been completed. To patrol the beach at night everyone has to undergo practical training to learn how to measure and tag a turtle, collect the eggs, record all the data correctly, and finally how to transport and then relocate the eggs in the hatchery. This last part involves digging a hole 75 cm in depth, then hollowing out a 3 5cm diameter egg chamber at the bottom with your hand, lying face down in the black volcanic sand whilst being bitten by sand-flies! However, all the training came to good use when last night at 23:15 Sheila and Keiner’s team, led by Magali, our scientist, came across a leahterbacke in sector A, 2.5 km down the beach from the station. Sending a hopeful poacher on his way, the team watched her crawl up the beach, dig her body pit and Sheila played the role of midwife, collecting the eggs in a large plastic bag, withdrawing the bag just in time, before the turtle began to fill in the nest. Keiner took the biometric data and Magali tagged her. Theresa was on hatchery duty from midnight until 06:00 and so had the honour of digging her first nest in the hatchery, depositing the eggs that will be safely guarded around the clock for the next 60 – 70 days until they hatch.
Not all patrols are as fruitful and our first night on the beach was a hot and sweaty in darkness, where the only turtle we encountered had already been commandeered by a poacher. The situation here is such that whoever reaches the turtle first, whether it be patrol or poacher, has immediate ‘rights’ over the turtle and its eggs without confrontation. The poaching situation is a real issue with 60% of the eggs taken by poachers last year. This year the tally is better so far with the robbed nests at 55 and the saved nests at 66. We are all beginning to understand that what we are doing here is real, direct conservation in action, and that without our presence and the ongoing work of our project partners LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles), 100% of the nests would be robbed and a whole generation of leatherbacks wiped out – a sobering thought for the team now determined to make the most of their time in this remote but biodiverse stretch of nesting habitat. In Sheila’s words, “it’s really uncomfortable to lie behind a turtle like that for 20 minutes. The thing that keeps you going is that you’ve got to stay there – it feels really important for the world that you keep this bag there!”