well, we are pretty exhausted this morning, most of it from adrenaline rushes -- the night began quietly enough with the tide going out as we started work. we made our first couple passes without seeing anything except for a few loggerheads. then around midnight chris called and I could tell by the tone of his voice that he had a leatherback - "when were you up here last?" he asked me - the turtle was near the ramp where we go up to the office, and it seemed like she was covering her nest. some of the behaviors before and after a nest are similar but it turned out that she was just beginning to dig her egg chamber. Chris called a few minutes later. "This is a weird season," he said, "this turtle is Jenny." Jenny nested just last season and we saw her 5 times. This is only the second turtle we've ever seen that has nested in consecutive years (Kalindi is the other one). I continued south while Chris made his way up to the inlet. my phone rang - chris again. "hey, he said, "I've got a loggerhead here that has a PIT tag." Being out on the beach gives us the opportunity to look at other turtles that are nesting (we also take some samples and tag loggerheads for another study being done by the University of Florida). The loggerhead had a PIT tag frequency that was close in number to the tags from the Marinelife Center and we wondered if this turtle was one that had been rehabilitated at the turtle hospital here (later we looked it up and found that she was not tagged here, so we'll be investigating where she was tagged).
I kept driving - another phone call at 1 am, another turtle. this time it was Ixchel, and Chris was watching her trying to scale the scarp up near the Jupiter Inlet. "you should come on up," he said, "there won't be any more turtles, and we should enjoy the ones we get to see." so I decided to go the few miles up to the Inlet. as I got there, Ixchel was laying her eggs but she was below the high tide line. we knew this nest would not survive and so we made the decision to relocate the eggs higher on the beach. there is a small window of time when it is possible to do this - the eggs stop in their development inside the turtle until they are deposited into the nest, but as soon as they hit the sand the embryo continues its development. When I've been away from my section of the beach for a while, I get kind of antsy to get going (it's a long way down to the other inlet) so I left Chris constructing a perfect leatherback egg chamber above the high tide line for Ixchel's eggs. I zoomed south - now the tide was way out. onto my stretch of beach again, I could be a little more relaxed. Then at Mercury Rd, I saw yet another crawl, but it stopped at the scarp. it was a leatherback crawl, but she could not get up onto dry sand and she was gone. hopefully I hadn't missed her I thought. as I got onto my ATV, I looked up and said to myself 'well that could be her.' just ahead, there was a turtle throwing sand. my turn to call - "save some for tomorrow night!" was the response. This turtle was Rainy - a turtle I'd seen nearly a month ago. at that time she had a really deep gash in the rear part of her carapace, it had not healed much in all that time. Last time I saw Rainy I was not able to give her flipper tags (our tagging pliers were broken) and so we decided that Chris would come down and tag her while I covered the rest of the 7 miles to the inlet.
it was about 2:45 and I was just getting through the park when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I was riding the ATV down close to the water but up above the berm I saw a person crouching by a nest. It was a poacher, taking eggs. AHH! I drove a little further on and called Chris - "POACHER!" was all I could get out, my heart was beating fast. Just the way the guy was kneeling, I knew he was not a regular night beach walker taking a rest. Chris called the police and I left the area, and went on to the inlet. a few phone calls later between the police department and the Park Rangers and I made my way back up the beach. I arrived at the nests and could see the lights of the police car coming down the beach. the poacher was gone - we checked the nests and sure enough you could see where he'd been kneeling and digging into the nest. at another nest, you could see the impression of a plastic bag that contained lots of little dimples - egg marks. Chris came down too and we looked at several nests from there south. Nearly every nest within one mile had been dug into. It's so disappointing - that's a lot of little turtles that won't hatch and will instead end up somewhere in an illegal market. chicken eggs are so much cheaper! It's hard to comprehend.
with that excitement all over, we felt like we were about to fall down, but we went back up to our office to regroup and plan the morning. I'm heading back down now to the scene of the crime and we'll take some pictures which we'll post later today - maybe this afternoon. I have a feeling we'll sleep like rocks today...
update 5.21 - when I went down to take some pictures the sun was really bright and I could not get a clear picture of the hand print or knee marks in the sand on the nest....so unfortunately we can't show you the evidence!