Sea Turtle Nest Hatching

Sea turtles live in the ocean, but lay their eggs on land. After mating just offshore, a female sea turtle will crawl up the sand on the very same beach where she was once born (or very close to it) to lay her eggs.

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Sea turtle conservation is one of my many jobs as a Peace Corps Volunteer. If we discover a newly laid nest in an unsafe location (perhaps it is located below the high tide line and will be submerged or perhaps wild dogs are likely to dig up and consume the nest) we transfer the nest to our protected sea turtle hatchery.

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Sea turtle hatchery in Binocot Beach, Ferrol, Romblon, Philippines. This fencing can protect the turtle eggs from excavation by dogs.

A nest is dug within this enclosure to the same dimensions as the original nest. Eggs are transferred with care to ensure that vertical orientation is preserved (within the first 10 hours of being laid a sea turtle embryo attaches to the roof of the egg, if this attachment is broken during transfer the turtle will not develop and then entire nest could end in mortality…thus immediate transfer and proper orientation are key!)

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We have 3 nests still currently waiting to hatch.

After about 60 days the eggs hatch. Last week we greeted 44 hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings!

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This turtle eats plankton and small invertebrates as a baby, but loves to eat sponges, crabs, and shrimp as an adult.
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44 live hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings in transit from our hatchery enclosure to the open beach where they would crawl to the ocean

After hatching sea turtles use visual stimuli to orient themselves to the ocean and crawl into the sea. Turn off bright beach lights!! Otherwise these baby turtles may mistakenly crawl to the road instead of the naturally brightest horizon of the ocean reflecting moonlight and the glimmer of stars.

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Some were resting and we waited about 4 hours until all had walked to the ocean. Usually they left in groups of 4 or 5. The movement on one turtle seemed to trigger its neighbors to also start moving. I snapped this photo just before sunset. After this point it was too dark to see the turtles clearly. 

Once in the ocean, these baby turtles will swim against the surf for about 15mins. As they get far from shore, turtles use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate their journey to the open sea, where they will live in floating beds of seaweed until they grow large and make the journey back to the beach where they were born.

Our care of this sea turtle nest had strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, only 44 eggs of a nest of over 100 eggs hatched. This low hatch rate is likely due to damage during the nest transfer process. Therefore do NOT move a sea turtle nest unless absolutely essential (in the US this is illegal without special permits and training). Secondly, the release of these hatchlings was delayed allowing many visitors and personal handling. In the future, I hope that hatchlings can be released as soon as possible with minimum human interference.

Our strengths include smooth sand, raked free from holes or obstruction. Also we camped out at the beach that night to ensure that no dogs stole off with baby turtles and we confirmed that all 44 hatchlings had successfully swam away by daybreak.

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A red light was used when checking on the sea turtles at night, because sea turtles are least attracted to the red wavelength. We tried to minimize human distractions of bright lights or camera flashes.

2015 Video Highlights

Here’s some more info about the best clips in my video:

  • I spent my 26th birthday at 9 Waves Resort in Manila for our Peace Corps mid-service training seminar. Therefore my ‘happy birthday’ was multiple rides down the double loop waterslide!
  • Scuba diving in Apo Island featured the most extensive coral coverage I have ever seen! Contact Harolds Dive Center or Liquid Dumaguete. There are also great muck dives near Dumaguete, which is where I found the seahorse featured.
  • Most of the marine life was seen while diving off of Tablas Island, particularly in Ferrol, Romblon with First Buddy Tablas, the new local dive shop.
  • Wreck diving in Subic Bay had mediocre visibility, but exciting WWII ships to explore. My favorite was a submerged air pocket in one of the wrecks. We also saw an octopus. Contact Mark Walton at Camayan Divers for more info.
  • In December a Spinner Dolphin stranded in Odiongan Bay. Here you can see the footage from our rehabilitation efforts at the Marine Breeding and Research Station, including the 4 person process of feeding a fish smoothie via intubation. Thanks to the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network for advising us in this rescue.
  • The music was taken from our government Employee’s Day dance routine (I also performed but was on the left side and outside the video frame). Imagine if American government offices had annual, compulsory, choreographed dance competitions?!!? We practiced for 3 weeks for this performance and handmade all costumes and props. Thanks to our choreographer Shakira for all the help!
  • Lastly, these two waterfalls are my favorites! Just a short bike ride from my home in Odiongan. Thanks to Kalen for trying to teach me how to dive, luckily my diving skills have improved substantially from this first attempt featured in the video.

Comings & Goings

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Romblon PCV Family as we first arrived at site in September 2014: Kendra, SJ, Loren, Ata, Drew, and Kalen

On my first 7 hour boat ride to Tablas Island, I was still a bit skeptical of the 5 other Americans assigned to serve with me on this island. Now after a year and a half ‘family’ doesn’t even begin to describe the bond formed from nights in the hospital when someone got dengue or food poisoning or the flu; from judging a cross-dressing employee’s day dance, singing karaoke duets, or riding on top of each other in an overloaded vehicle; from summiting a mountain and from scuba diving while trying to anchor coral to the ground for our first coral garden; from 3 hour bicycle rides while our co-workers ride motorcycles; from eating roasted duck on Thanksgiving and sharing the incomprehensible flavors of the Thai dinner Kalen cooked us this past weekend (after we ran out of propane for the stove, rode a tricycle all around Odiongan to get it refilled, only to return home and borrow from the neighbors).

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Romblon PCV Family today February 2016: SJ, Kendra, Kalen, Loren, Ata and (missing from photo but still on the island) Drew

Therefore ‘sad’ doesn’t nearly cover the emotions of saying goodbye. A Peace Corps volunteer signs a 27-month contract, yet inevitably some volunteers do not finish these 27-months…maybe its a family emergency or medical injury or an alternative job opportunity. As of this week our original Romblon PCV family is less one as we said goodbye to Kalen. He worked as an elementary school teacher, but really he inspired numerous kids to speak with confidence, to show up to school each day, and to think outside the box.

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Ironically, Kalen and I had both worked for the same company (Bold Earth for teen adventure trips) prior to joining the Peace Corps and have multiple mutual friends but did not meet we came to the Philippines.

February has proved to be a month of comings and goings because this goodbye will be shortly followed by a hello to Peace Corps Response Volunteer John Larkins. Response volunteers typically serve for a few months to a year and are assigned a very specific job based on requested technical skills. John will work for the Provincial Tourism Office on eco-tourism development.

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Future Eco-Tourism Response Volunteer John Larkins snowboarding before he departs for the Philippines. (Notice the I heart Romblon tshirt!)

It has been a goodbye that came to fast and a hello that couldn’t come fast enough.

Check this out…John and Kalen crossed paths at the airport in Tokyo!!!

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