27 May 2008

Salvaging and leatherback turtles – Rodney Bay, St. Lucia

May 27, 2008

We arrived in Rodney Bay two days ago and were able to anchor under sail. It’s always a great feeling to end a beautiful day of sailing without having to turn the engine on. Since we didn’t use the engine to back down on the anchor, we both dove on the anchor to determine that it was set properly. Kristen notice a long line of chain stretched out across the bottom, and on further investigation we realized it was in very good condition and had a 28kg anchor attached. We started the salvage process, and after an hour of work and 30 minutes of walking the docks, Hans had sold the anchor and chain for $400EC (approx. $150)! With this new treasure, we promptly made plans to rent a car to explore the island and to look for leatherback turtles nesting on Grand Anse, an east coast beach.

A valley covered with banana fields on the west coast of St. Lucia.

Hans and Steve liven up the evening with some guitar playing.

We toured around the island for a couple hours and returned to Rodney Bay around 5:30 to pick up the crew from Uliad and Caroline from Someday Came. After an hour drive up to the top of the mountains and then down a pot-holed dirt road to the beach, we started our turtle watch. Luckily, an organized group of tourists were there with guides so we were able to tag along with the guides. Somewhat over-confidently, we thought we could walk the beach and watch the turtles unaided by a more knowledgeable guide. After this experience, I would feel comfortable doing that, but not the first time! We walked to one end of the beach where Isaiah explained the reproductive cycle of the leatherbacks to us, then we gathered strength and walked toward the other end of the beach. Halfway there, the two guides stopped and started sneaking around. A turtle was digging a hole to lay her eggs! We all took turns creeping up behind here watching her dig her hole. She used her two back flippers to move dig the dirt and throw it out of the hole. After about 20 minutes, she started to lay her eggs. Steve (from Uliad) and I were designated counters and we counted the fertile eggs. She lays both fertile and infertile eggs. The infertile eggs are smalls and act as cushioning to protect the fertile eggs. After about 30 minutes of laying eggs, she started covering the nest with dirt and spent a good 30 minutes more disguising the area before she pushed off back to the ocean. It was an amazing, one in a lifetime experience. A few quick facts: each turtle lays 80-100 eggs at a time and she comes back at least once a week to lay eggs between May and July. The eggs hatch about 60 days after they have been laid, but only 1 in 1000 hatchlings survive to lay eggs. About 25 years after hatching, the hatchlings return to the exact beach they were born on to lay eggs.

The leatherback turtle laying the eggs.

Notice her eyes are covered in sand...she fills them with mucus before coming out of the sea to protect them from the sand. Thus, her eyesight is very limited, but she still detects bright lights which can confuse her. We had to rely on our own night vision to watch the process.

After successfully laying over 80 fertile eggs, she pushes back to the ocean.