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A Jungle Waterfall & Nesting Turtles (alas!)

By Chaylee Posson

March 10-11, 2014

Rio Seco Falls - Photo by Ann Sebring
Rio Seco Falls – Photo by Ann Sebring

Today we went on a hike to Rio Seco where we walked for about 45 minutes through the forest to a 15-20 ft. waterfall with a pool of

Mora Tree
Mora Tree

fresh water. Of course, I was first to dive in. The water was pretty cold, but we were all hot and sweaty and ready to cool off.

Tree snake - Photo by Taylor Chichester
Tree snake – Photo by Taylor Chichester

We heard many birds (but didn’t see them), and we saw bats, a tree snake, a crab, and fish swimming in the natural pool.

I did a little bit of climbing on the rocks that surrounded the waterfall, and many people climbed up about halfway and were jumping into the pool, which I was told is over 20 feet deep! A couple of our group members were equipped with GoPro cameras and got some really fun shots and video footage of jumping off the waterfall.

Rio Seco Waterfall - Day 2
Rio Seco Waterfall – Day 2

I could not have imagined how amazing this trip would be. So far, we have been served the most delicious food, freshly cooked by a crew of women at Suzan’s Guest House.

Lunch at Suzan's Guesthouse - Day One
Lunch at Suzan’s Guesthouse – Day One

This has been a royal comfort, as Trinidad is a completely new place to me and I’ve had to make a few adjustments. For example, when we left St. Louis last Saturday, it was around 35 degrees, and when we landed in Port of Spain, Trinidad, it was nearly 80 degrees and Photo by Beth Ann Whiteextremely humid (at 1am). We are staying in Matura Village, where, all throughout the night, roosters crow and dogs bark periodically in addition to the constant roar of crickets and other insects. But the blessings and loves far outweigh these adjustments.

This blog wouldn’t be complete without a recounting of tonight’s (and my first) Leatherback Sea Turtle experience. We left Suzan’s Guest House for the beach around 8pm. We all split up into our respective research groups and began walking the beach with one of the Nature Seeker patrols. Our patrol guide’s name was Dexter, or “Big Jack,” and he was really clever in helping us find our very first Leatherback.

We had been walking on the beach for about 30 minutes when Jack said, “Always remember: to be a good patrol you must always look at every object on the beach.” Right at that moment, I spotted a Leatherback about 10 feet in front of us! It was huge! She was “body pitting”, or getting comfortable in a spot on the beach where she would lay her eggs. She kept moving around on the sand by flapping her enormous front flippers.

Laying eggs - Photo by Beth Ann
Laying eggs – Photo by Beth Ann
Collecting eggs as they are laid - Photo by Taylor Chichester
Collecting eggs as they are laid – Photo by Taylor Chichester

IMG_2703 IMG_2713Once she settled down and began digging a hole for her nest, Big Jack brought me over to the rear of the turtle to look for a tag. We could only use red lights around her while she was digging the hole and moving around, because scientists have figured out that Leatherbacks are least reactive to red lights. It was not until she was actually laying her eggs that we could use white light or take pictures with a flash. This is made possible because the Leatherbacks go into a trance-like state while they are laying eggs and are not easily disturbed.

Nesting Leatherback - Day 2 - Photo by Taylor Chichester
Nesting Leatherback – Day 2 – Photo by Taylor Chichester

Jack and I saw that this turtle had no tags on her hind flippers, so I was sent to pick up two tags from our data kit. I read the tag numbers to Adam who wrote them on our data sheet. I would eventually put these tags on her by piercing into the cartilage on her hind flippers – similar to piercing an ear – while she was laying eggs.

Leatherback Eggs for measuring and weighing- Day 2 - Photo by Taylor Chichester
Leatherback Eggs for measuring and weighing- Day 2 – Photo by Taylor Chichester

It was quite an awesome experience that I will never forget. I’m loving #Trinidadtrip2014!

Our First Night on the Beach

By Marshall McCurties

No turtles? Nap time! Photo by Scott Eckert
No turtles? Nap time! Photo by Scott Eckert

At 7pm, the group grabbed all our gear, had a quick metaphysical meeting, and loaded into the back of a truck to head to the beach. Our “Trinidad Transport Truck” was a mixture of excited chatter and apprehensive silence, hoping that we would get to see our first turtle tonight. We arrived at the beach and were debriefed on what the plan was for the night. If we found a turtle, we would all work on it together learning how to tag it and do proper data collection.

We started our beach patrol, walking for about 20 minutes down to one end and then resting there for about 30 minutes. Our walks were a mixture of laughter, camp songs, and stories as we dodged the water rising up to our feet. When we got to one end of our patrol our break included snacks, star gazing, and resting on the beach.  We patrolled for about 3.5 hours and walked a total of 4 miles along the beach.

Unfortunately, we didn’t come across any turtles tonight, but we did still have a great time. The moon, stars, and waves created a very magical feel that was very awe inspiring. It was a great first day in Trinidad and we look forward to more.

Here Turtle, Turtle, Turtle…

First night on Matura Beach – Photo by Beth Ann White

By Heather Barron (Res Counselor)

Our Mitsubishi Fuso pulled down to Matura Beach as evening pushed out the last of the daylight. Seventeen students, two faculty and seven Nature Seekers guides piled out of the back of the truck. The beach, which had been abuzz of activity earlier that afternoon with the Beach Clean-Up Festival, was now virtually empty. Remnants of the festival marked where our evening adventure would begin.

White tents flapped in the balmy breeze. An enormous heap of yellow trash bags stuffed with beach litter stood as living testament to the effectiveness of the more than 1500 volunteers, who had given up their Sunday for the good of the turtles. Their work had optimized the landscape for Leatherbacks to come ashore and lay their eggs. It also ensured a much smoother and safer beach for our group and the work we were there to do.

A stream of headlamp-adorned students, filled with the hope of seeing their first Leatherback in the wild, filtered down the path to the beach looking like miners heading to work.  The first-quarter moon illuminated the newly-cleared beach. Scott, our fearless leader and inimitable professor, invited everyone to turn off headlamps to adjust to night-vision. By the light of the moon, this wasn’t difficult.

Moonlight irradiated frothy waves of the churning surf. The tide was out. We began walking to Zone 14, a fifteen minute walk in the shadow of coconut palms.

The night was filled with a symphony of sound. Beneath the erratic rhythm of crashing and receding waves, the surf orchestrated a steady, roaring bass line. Wind elicited a shoosh-shoosh-shooshing from the palm trees. An occasional chorus of laughter would rise from the group, punctuating the concert.

After an energetic beach walk, dodging incoming waves to avoid soggy feet, scanning for turtles as we walked, we reached Zone 14. Scott directed us to drop our packs and “camp out.” The turtle-watch began.

Earlier in the walk, he had instructed everyone in how to look along the surf line for turtles coming ashore. Peripheral vision is how one actually spots a turtle. Looking directly at a dark object at night will appear to make the object disappear. By using peripherals, one is able to see where obstructions to the beachscape occur – driftwood and turtles included.

Then the fine-tuning begins. What shape is the dark mass? Is it large enough to be a turtle? Does it appear to be moving – in one direction (rather than back and forth, as driftwood might?

This night, however, we would not get to try out these new found skills. After four and a half hours, and two passes of the same section of coastline, the group returned to the parking lot. We climbed back aboard the truck and headed in to call it  an “early” night.

“Tomorrow night will be better,” Francis, our wise turtle-whispering guide, promised. “Tonight, the tide is too low. The turtles won’t come up until 3 or 5 in the morning.”

After our first full day on the island, I am not the only who was grateful we would not stay to wait the turtles out!


Seeking and Finding the Perfect Palm Tree For Climbing

The Perfect Palm
The perfect palm – Photo By Melissa L’Heureux

By Molly Dixon

Climbing a coconut tree has always been on my bucket list. So when I spotted coconut trees on the beach in Trinidad I wanted to give it a try. I wasn’t just looking for any coconut tree, but a slanted coconut tree, so I wouldn’t have to climb straight up!  I tried to shimmy up a couple trees, but only made it half way because I hadn’t yet discovered the perfect tree.

Finally, I found a coconut tree that was at a 45-degree angle.  Slowly, I shimmied to the very top and twisted off a small coconut. It was fun and exhilarating! I loved exploring Matura Beach today! So beautiful and sunny!

Molly conquers the palm tree

Day One – Matura Beach Clean-Up Festival

IMG_6744By Elissa Matheny

Seeing Matura beach for the first time today has amplified my sea turtle excitement like nothing else. Our group joined another 1500 people for a morning of beach cleaning and fun. Since we slept in after a long and tiring night, we actually missed the clean up part, but it didn’t stop a lot of us from helping do a final last sweep of trash! It was a fun two hours of exploring, climbing palm trees, and seeing a bunch of Trinidadian animals!

The beach seems to have eroded quite a bit, which doesn’t leave a lot of beach for the turtles to nest on! We’re excited to see how that’ll impact the nesting season. The waves are also quite large and we saw tons of Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish scattered around.

After a wonderful few hours at the beach we came back to the guest house for lunch and naps. It’s been a great day so far, but the best part is coming later tonight when we finally get to see the Leatherbacks!