Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Female Green Turtle Returns!!!

Once sea turtles start laying eggs you can start to narrow down the date when they will return again. Creatures of habit these swimming reptiles are. Lucky us. Knowing the date is coming up round here gets our blood boiling. A large female Green turtle dropped 121 eggs within the first half hour of 14 April. She chose Mentawak beach, where JTP is located, so there's a strong shot she was born here 25-30 years ago since the mommas return to where they were born. This species' renesting interval is 10 - 14 days so starting two nights ago our eyes were wide when we strolled the beach at night.

Alli getting in there! It was her first time collecting as a turtle laid eggs. Exciting!
She didn't come back after 10 days, but on the 11th, she came through! Charlie got the call as we were hopping on the motorbikes after a superb dinner (my belly was bursting with potato curry and peanut chicken) in Juara. Onward we went! By the time Alli and I arrived with the processing gear she was flicking sand out with her front flippers and bout to deliver some eggs. Excellent timing!

The whole shebang! 104 total.
Everything played out quite nice-ty (as Bootsy sings). We had a full house in attendance. Besides Alli and I, Charlie, Izati (also full-time at JTP), Ina, Dani (German hatchery intern), another German (his name slips my mind), and Michelle (our new volunteer from Holland) were all there gazing at a huge shell tinged in red light. After she dug the egg hole with her rear flippers (the process looks remarkably like a construction scooper), the eggs started plopping down on the sand. And this time Alli got in there, shoulder deep, and scooped some eggs out (Arizona represent!). She loved it. Having a sticky sea turtle egg fall on the top of your hand is quite the feeling.
The female Green turtle after she did her work. She was breathing heavy after it all!
All in all this time only 104 eggs total, 17 less than last time. We need to figure out why the number dropped. The eggs are under the sand in our hatchery now. In about 2 months the babies will scurry up. And in 11 days we can expect the momma to return to plop out some more. The nesting season is hopefully ramping up! The more the merrier round here.
Her tracks back to the sea around 630 hours this morning. Still there and looking solid in the morning light.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sea Turtle Talk Time, Internet Style

Afternoon people (except most people reading this are sleeping right now). Here at the Juara Turtle Project (JTP) we give a whole lotta turtle talks. On some days when the tourists are poppin' in on a constant basis we give more than a lot, as we can be consumed by turtle talkin' for easily over an hour or two. That's no problem though because most of the time the talks are fun and informative, but in a sense the info can be very depressing with a dash of optimism thrown in, too.

Two German tourists getting to know Jo the Green Sea Turtle on one of our turtle talks.
Why depressing? Well, let me give a sea turtle talk to y'all, it's going to be in broad strokes so if you know a lot about these creatures already, sorry in advance for the repetition (you guys can just look at the photos). This is the JTP turtle talk, Internet edition! So there's no way to sugar coat the facts. Sea turtles are in SERIOUS trouble. To put it simply: there just ain't a lot left of 'em in the world's oceans. Only seven species exist and all have the unfortunate status of "endangered" or "critically endangered." Hundreds of millions of Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) used to swim in the Earth's tropical and subtropical oceans. In 2004, after a worldwide accumulation of data, only about 89,000 female turtles were coming ashore to nest. Male sea turtles never come ashore, only the females, so getting a line on total population #s is rather tricky.

A Green Sea Turtle laying eggs on Mentawak Beach on 14 April 2012.
I don't want to ramble on forever about turtles (trust me, I can ramble, anyone who has ever received a voice mail from me can attest to it) so I'll try to keep this post neat and to-the-point. On Tioman Island here we used to get 4 species of sea turtle: the aforementioned Green, the giant Leatherback (the largest sea turtle, they can weigh up to 500 kg, sorry America, we're metric system now!), Hawksbills and Olive Ridleys. As Tom Petty sings, the Leatherback and Olives "don't come a-round here anymore." Luckily, the Green and Hawksbill still do. A reason for the drastic decline in sea turtle numbers on Tioman is that people collected the eggs to eat. People who lived here ate them, as did tourists who came to the island. And they were collecting the whole caboodle so no new babies were reaching the ocean. You can see where this is going: no new babies = very few remaining turtles returning to Tioman. Female turtles return to nest at the site they were born at. Talk about impressive: Tioman turtles will swim to the Philippines and Australia to feed, then turn around and haul shell back here to drop off their next generation.

Charles Fisher sadly looking at a poached nest on Mentawak Beach. Unfortunately JTP didn't find it in time. It's a photo of a photo.
So at JTP we patrol the beach we live behind on a nightly basis, multiple times per night depending on when high tide is. We look for turtles, or turtle tracks, and if there is a nesting female we collect her eggs and then place them in our hatchery on the beach. We're also patrolling two beaches south of Juara Bay by boat in the morning. After 2 months the babies all come up at the same time and then we release them exactly where we found them. Those cute little flipper happy turtles want to get to the ocean as fast as they can once they're born. If 1 out the 129 Hawksbill eggs Alli placed in our hatchery this morning survive then that's a success. The females drop a lot of eggs, but not many of them make it.

Alli placing 129 Hawksbill eggs into our hatchery. We found this nest earlier this morning on a nearby beach.
The other threats are everywhere, mostly human-caused. Drowning in fishing nets is a large one (shrimping, long-lining, etc.). Being reptiles these creatures need to breathe so they can only hold there breath for so long (an hour is pushing it to the brink for most species). People still eat their meat (turtle steak used to be a common cuisine) and eggs, and turn their shells into tourist trinkets. Boats hit them, too. Light pollution scares nesting females away, and the ever-encroaching beast known as "development" swallows up nesting habitat every year. Trash in our waters gets mistaken as food: plastics bags look like jellyfish, cigarette butts are the shape of a floating snack.

What Green Sea turtle tracks look like. We look for these on our nightly walks. These tracks are from the above female in the photo laying eggs.
Bam! Have I got you depressed yet? Sorry, the numbers are sobering and like I said, trying to sugar coat deep fried gruel is tough. But here at JTP we're trying to help out as much as we can. We patrol the beaches, collect the eggs and get as many babies in the ocean as possible. We are working on sea turtle friendly lighting for the nesting beach in front of us. Protecting nesting habitat is also on the docket. Education and outreach is always important. We are open to the public, and like I said before, we give a lot of turtle talks on a daily basis. And working with the fisheries department and the marine park around Tioman is a priority as well. A postive side to all this: communities and organizations that have continually collected eggs and released them for 30+ years (coincidentally how long a lot of species take to reach sexual maturity) have seen nesting increases. That's more turtles on the beach mon. It takes time to turn things around, but it can be done.
That's a lot of dead turtle on the line. Unfortunately this happens all too often. Another photo of a photo.
So what can individuals do? I'll touch upon this in another post as I believe I have broken my own goal, and have rambled on for a quite a bit. But remember: it isn't just about sea turtles. A striking number of species face extinction in the ocean, from huge sharks to smaller ugly fish (the Monkfish anyone?) The hope is since sea turtles are sexy charismatic megafauana (for instance: not many people hate on sea turtles, but folks sure do hate rattlesnakes) people will not only get involved to help their seven species, but the smorgasbord of other marine life that faces a continued battle to not blink out before my generation passes. Thanks for reading and if you have anyone questions about all this (and I know it's a lot) please do ask me or Alli.
Enlarge this photo to read. It's a great summary of the problems sea turtles, and a lot of marine life, face.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Juara Report: We're Here and Loving It

*** If you have reached this blog through the Juara Turtle Project (JTP) website you might also be interested in the following entries, besides the one found below, which range a whole host of topics related to JTP. Click the link to view:
- Hallelujah for Hatchlings
- Goodbye Toilet Paper, Hello Wet Toilet!
- Saved by Sound
- Funny Field Work Follies (and the letter F goes wild!)
- Juara Raking Team
- Sweeter Than a Plate of Yams with Extra Syrup

Howdy everyone on the interwebs! The time is flying - we've already been in Kampung Juara and at the Juara Turtle Project for over a week. Awesome stuff. Kampung is village in Malay. Alli and I are trying to learn Bahasa Malay, but I still got the training wheels on that bike for sure. We're picking up words here and there, and talking to people so hopefully it won't be too long. I'm sure it will be better than my Spanish, but that ain't saying much.

Alli draining the koi pond and making it look real gooooooooooood.

So where to begin, huh? The first week here has been a doozy - we've both dove right into the pool. None of that wasting time in the shallow kiddie area with floaties on. To start off in broad strokes, Juara is a village on the east side of the island, the only village on this side in fact. Check out a map here if you want to. I would say about 300-350 people live here including recent transplants (us) and seasonal tourism industry workers. Everyone has been super friendly and quite talkative when you meet them (I would say this has been true everywhere in Malaysia). It's nice and quite gorgeous too. The lush jungle comes right down to the bay. Green meets blue - like Leonardo (of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame, duh) tying up his blue mask to his green head.

Brian nailing some nails into some wood = compost box. I make the boxes here, Charlie builds houses!

Whoa, that was a boy joke if there ever was one. But quite fitting because we are here to help the sea turtles, who last time I checked don't wield Katana or a bo staff (they might be less endangered if they did though). The Lady (shout out to Alli!) and I are volunteering at Juara Turtle Project, a multi-faceted organization devoted to sea turtle conservation, education and research. The project has in a sense a field station here - we are living on-site, and volunteers and school groups stay here too. It's been going on independently, and at its current location, since 2008.

The box models of 2012! Watch out we're gonna be on the cover of the fall catalog.

Trying to sum up everything we do is no simple task. In the morning we got daily chores, such as raking the property (leaves be falling in the jungle!), watering plants and making everything look spiffy for the day. Also on a daily basis we give talks to people who come visit JTP, ranging from a few folks to 30+ some days. Jo, the blind sea turtle here, gets fed twice daily too. She fancies squid and fish - she gets cabbage as well, but c'mon, who likes that over seafood!

Then besides the daily tasks we got a whole shebang of other things cooking. It can range from Alli machete-ing the jungle to get the garden beds up to snuff or me building her a cubic meter wooden compost box (check the photo: I build a box, Charlie builds a house). We also clean Jo's tank every 4-5 days, which includes pumping seawater up from the beach. The tank cleaning is quite the production - at least 3 people are needed for the entire process. We scrub a lotta tile for the Jo too. The laundry list of activities continues: cleaning the chalet walls, cruising around in the JTP's boat (named Will Smith, personally I would have gone with Jeff Goldblum!) looking for washed-up goodies (wood, laundry baskets, rope, etc.), put a roof over the BBQ, emptied a koi pond, began researching light pollution mitigation measures for sea turtles and so much more.

Alli's garden beds after she showed them what's up. Look at those coconuts all in a row.

We'll begin posting more specific subjects after this here entry. So for now, enjoy this mess!

Alli (Machete Garden Queen Extraordinaire) & Brian (Man Who Makes Box)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

One Week In! First the Flight & Singapore

Greetings folks (whoever is reading this) from Pulau Tioman, Malaysia! Alli and I are here now in Kampung Juara, at the Juara Turtle Project, and have been for 5 days. That's future blog post though (coming soon, cub scout's honor). But before we got into all this jazz we had a lenghty flight to endure, as well as a few days to wander in Singapore.

Leaving Arizona and the Sonoran Desert l
ast Thursday (05 April 2012) was tough and more hectic than either of us thought. My daily to-do-lists in Chandler resembled the ramblings of a truly professional procrastinator. Of course Alli's lists were nice and tidy. But it was incredibly difficult to leave mis amigos (Bratze he a love them all!) & familia behind. All will be missed, well except that one Bumsted's karaoke host. Her, not so much.
The journey went like this: Singapore airlines from Phoenix -> San Fran -> Seoul -> and finally: looks like we made it! Shania Twain style. Close to 24 hours total. I didn't think it was too awful - they offered boatloads of free movies and gave us more than enough food. My only regret: I watched the 4th Mission Impossible (don't waste your time) instead of On Deadly Ground. Never should have chose Cruise over Segal. One of the highlights: ice cream sandwiches after our veggie Indian dinner.

We then got into Singapore around 230am and took a taxi to Tom Wuebben's condo. Haven't seen this kid in almost 5 years so that's pretty darn exciting. But he was out of town 'til the next day, which proved to be for the best since getting used to the 12 hour time difference is a task. We crashed there, slept in, felt wacky and finally were able to muster the strength to head to the renowed food hawker stalls Asia is known for. In short: they're delectable! So much variety: noodles, candy pork over rice, curries, yummy smoothies, etc. You really can't go wrong (I might have had two entrees!).

Then shortly after this almighty food consumption we passed out for lots of hours and the next day were greeted by Big Tom Wuebbens, which was a blast. He showed us all around Singapore. My summarized opinions: very fancy, nice cars (my 93 Nissan Pickup I'm pretty sure is illegal here), expensive, futuristic architecture and more shopping than any average person needs. Not my favorite, but probably the easiest and least sketchy city to fly into at 3am and meander around town. It was an effortless transition. Little India is a neighborhood worth spending some time in though if you do find yourself there.

Spent one more night at Big T's place and then packed up for our journey out to Pulau Tioman. But that's another story and I'm on the 4am beach patrol for sea turtles, so it's time to rest my eyes. Semalat tinggal.