Joe Porter's Diary
Saving the Leatherback Turtle, St. Croix

Friday, May 30, 2003
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Monday, May 26, 2003
Sunday, May 25, 2003

Friday, May 23, 2003
Thursday, May 22, 2003
Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Related Sites

Friday, May 30, 2003

It's the last night on the beach, and I have a return flight back to the mainland that departs at noon the next day. It was another quiet night, but all of the volunteers had a great time since it was the last night.

As usual, the night was perfect with a lot of stars and a mild breeze. We did have a little excitement when we came across a couple of fishermen. We had to tell them to get off the beach and that they would be arrested the next time since it was illegal to be there. They had the perfect island attitude and stated that it was "no problem, man." In the morning, there were a lot of goodbyes and number exchanges. The turtle adventure was a real eye-opener, and I will never regret coming here to do this.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

More turtles at night and more fun during the day. Turtle activity was normal. We did have a turtle that decided to stay on the beach all the way up to about 10 minutes before the sun came up. I believe her objective was to tease us about not being able to take pictures during the night due to the flash.

After about four hours of sleep, three other volunteers and I decided to visit the local scuba shop to take the Discovery Scuba course. This course is very short—video instruction and a quick lesson by the instructor. The course does not count toward any certification, but it exposes you to the experience. The four of us were underwater for about 45 minutes to a depth of 20 feet (six meters).

Scuba diving for the first time was very exciting, but it was difficult getting used to the water pressure. Fishing traps, old tires, many different types of coral and fish and the remains of an old dock were some of the objects that we got to see. The entire process, from instruction to returning to the scuba shop, lasted about four hours and was definitely worth the time.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Tonight I saw a turtle army. We didn't even cover a mile (1.6 kilometers), and there were six turtles within a 196-foot (60-meter) radius. All were within the erosion zone, so we had to catch the eggs. I remember at one point during the night I radioed the project leader to ask if these turtles were still endangered. I literally had to run and slide in behind the turtles to catch the eggs. It seemed that the turtles were laying eggs right after the other. Let's just say that this night went by really fast.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Started at the beach at 8 p.m. ... walk ... walk ... walk ... walk ... walk ... walk ... wow, a turtle ... walk ... walk ... walk ... walk ... walk ... another turtle. A pretty slow night, which means that tomorrow night will be very busy.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Just another wonderful day on the beach, with sand in my shoes and turtles throwing sand all over the place. These turtles have very strong flippers since they have to move their 600- to 700-pound (272- to 317-kilogram) bodies around on the beach.

We had some comedy this evening. One of the volunteers was knocked off her feet when she was next to a turtle and the turtle started to move her flipper back–smacking the volunteer in the process. This incident provided hours of fun for the volunteers at the expense of the bruised individual.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, the area wildlife official hosts tours of Sandy Point and its visiting turtles for local school children and their parents. One reason that the leatherback turtles are endangered is because locals believe the eggs can be used as an aphrodisiac. Before Earthwatch started on its project, the turtle eggs would be stolen. The tours are meant to educate the public about the turtles and try to change attitudes about poaching the turtles and their eggs. Poaching does not happen anymore on St. Croix thanks to Earthwatch and the volunteers.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The second night was our first full night on the beach. Jeanne, the project leader, divided the volunteers into teams of three or four people. Véronique and I were on separate teams, so we may have slightly different entries from here on out.

Day two on patrol was a quiet one, which gave us time to find out more about each other and about the leatherbacks. We did run into two turtles on separate ends of our patrol.

There are a few rules that have to be followed when a turtle is on the beach. It is important that all of the volunteers stay behind the turtle so it does not feel threatened and head back to the ocean without leaving a nest. Also, the turtles are very sensitive to light, and this is the major reason why they nest during the night. Our eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness with the help of the stars and the moon.

The first thing we do when we come across a turtle is identify it by reading its flipper tag or using a scanner to read an internal passive integrated tag (PIT). If a turtle does not have either of these, we radio for one of the Earthwatch team members to insert a PIT or a flipper tag. After we identify a turtle, the team just sits and waits for it to be satisfied with the nest it digs and to lay its eggs. At that time, we map where the eggs were laid and record the turtle’s measurements as well as any damage on it.

There is one stretch of the beach that is called the erosion zone, where part of the beach washes away and the sand is deposited on the other side of the beach. Six months later, the cycle reverses itself. If a turtle decides to have its nest in this zone, it is the responsibility of the team to get behind the turtle and catch up to 100 eggs. These eggs are then relocated to a safer part of the beach.

This entire process happens without the turtle knowing what is going on. When the turtle starts to lay her eggs, she goes into a trance and does not see or feel anything. This is the time we do our measurements, attach tracking tags, catch eggs, and inspect for damage.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

After three connecting flights from Moline, Illinois (United States) to St. Croix, I arrived on the island on Tuesday around 9 p.m. I quickly acquired a ride to the cottage, which was located at a very quiet end of the island right on the beach. The next morning, I found the other Alcoan on the project, Véronique Ansermet, and we visited an old sugar plantation. The owner, who was very nice, gave us some freshly squeezed passion fruit juice. After we drank the entire pitcher, we headed back to the cottages and met up with the other Earthwatch volunteers.

The first night, the volunteers were only needed from 8 p.m. until midnight. Around 9 p.m., Jeanne the project leader dug up a nest that had some hatchlings emerge 24 hours prior. She did this to ensure that we could save as many of the leatherback turtles as possible. She found another 16 little turtles, and we were allowed to take them close to the waterline. We watched them find the water and start their 60- to 70-year-long lives. Also, these turtles never stop swimming once they start, and actually they never have to sleep. For further information on the hatchlings, please read Véronique's diary. She did an awesome job describing the event.


Related Sites


Leatherback Turtles

Sea Turtle Research & Conservation
The Caribbean Conservation Corporation is the oldest sea turtle research and conservation organization in the world.
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Chelonian Research Foundation
Foundation that produces, publishes, and supports worldwide turtle and tortoise research.
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Marine Turtle Newsletter
Newsletter that provides information on sea turtles around the world.
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National Geographic Lesson Plan
A lesson plan for students in kindergarten through second grade that focuses on leatherback turtles and their special compasses.
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Protecting Leatherback Turtle Nesting in Costa Rica
Nesting is protected by law.
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U.S. Virgin Islands

U.S. Virgin Islands
Learn more about ecotourism opportunities in the Virgin Islands.
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Virgin Islands National Park
VI's environment, beaches, near shore waters, coral reefs, flora, fauna, and more.
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Earthwatch Institute


Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.
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Leatherback Turtles


Explore the world of these endangered turtles.
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Quick Facts about Leatherback Turtles


Descriptions, status, threats, and accomplishments in conserving the leatherback turtles.
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2002 Expedition Diary


Read the diary of a 2002 participant in the Earthwatch leatherback turtle expedition.
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