2018 Season wrap-up…

Now that nearly all our nests have hatched, we can call the leatherback season at Sandy Point completed! On the last night of the season, we had one final turtle – Sarah (flipper tag = AAV640), pictured above with members of the team. Taking a long-exposure shot under nearly full moonlight was the only way we could capture Sarah nesting (you can just make out her shape in front of us). It was a lovely finish for our successful season. Thank you so much to everyone who supported us with words of encouragement, enthusiasm for our work, volunteering, buying our t-shirts, and following our updates! We could not do this project without the support of so many people 🙂

We saw more turtles (38 individuals) in 2018 than we did in 2017 (28), which is still far below our annual average of 95 turtles per season. We are hoping that 2019 will bring back all our nesters who have been missing over the last several years. Still we had things to celebrate! We had a higher proportion of new nesting turtles this year (15) than the past couple years, which shows that turtles who hatched here are maturing and returning to nest on their home beach – Sandy Point. We also had a couple of great recaptures of very old girls who have been nesting at Sandy Point for decades. Milly was our oldest – she was first tagged in 1992 (AAG996) and has laid over 100 clutches of eggs on St. Croix. She was last seen though in 2012, so we were happy to see she was back. Next oldest was Jillene (AAR575), who was first observed nesting at Sandy Point in 1995. Our champion nesters this year were Rose (TTZ557), and MaryLisa (3063), who nested 6 and 7 times respectively. MaryLisa was originally tagged over in Puerto Rico but now regularly nests at St. Croix. In all, we recorded 130 nests this season.

5. leatherback_hatchlings
Hatchlings head down to the water in the early evening.

Everyone loves hatchlings, and we saw plenty this year! Each evening we head to the beach before dark to protect hatchlings that are beginning to emerge. At Sandy Point, hatchlings may come up even before it gets dark, so we are there to make sure that as many as possible get to the water without being scooped up by frigate birds or commandeered by ghost crabs. Most of our nests emerged successfully and we later dug them up to count eggs, but most importantly, to find and release any little guys who’d been left behind. We often find one or two little stragglers in the bottom of the nest that likely would not make it out without us. We then release them immediately after dark

We had a great group of volunteers and helpers this season – it’s a lot of hard work to walk the beaches all night long hoping to encounter a giant leatherback, and then it’s many hot afternoons looking for hatchlings during the latter part of the season. We are thrilled to have so much interest in our program at Sandy Point! We will be looking for volunteers for next season very soon.

We’ll be posting some other updates on various topics throughout the next couple months and we are already planning for the 2019 season, which will begin in March. Please continue to follow along with us! And thank you for your support. If you are interested in supporting our work for 2019, please donate at this link.

The Sea Turtle Census is a project of The Ocean Foundation, working in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service for The Leatherback Project.

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