Friday, 16 October 2015

A typical day as a turtle volunteer

Since 2011, TRACC volunteers have been working to protect green and hawksbill turtles in the NE Semporna islands from our base on Pom Pom Island that is one of the most important hawksbill nesting sites in the Celebes sea. Hawksbill and Green nesting was nearly wiped out by decades of extensive harvesting of eggs for food and shell for the international tortoiseshell trade. However, TRACC's sustained presence has greatly reduced poaching and other threats, and fewer nests are disturbed each season.

There are turtles in the water all year but the numbers
increase in the summer as more nesting females arrive.
The tides largely determine how the day of a turtle volunteer will be spent but a standard day will include at least 2 snorkels at high and low tide which are around 1km long and we use any current to make the swim as easy as possible. On this snorkel you will look for green and hawksbill turtles and will keep a tally of how many males and females you see and what size they are.  The TRACC science staff will teach about identifying turtle sex and species. 




Many of the NE Semporna islands have nesting turtle populations
and TRACC turtle snorkellers help monitor populations
by surveying several different islands



Between snorkel surveys there will be opportunities to help construct artificial reef, to learn to identify the numerous different fish on the Pom Pom island, take part in beach clean ups to keep the beach clean and clear for the nesting turtles or you can relax on the beach and have some fun snorkels.

Once the sun sets hourly night patrols of the beach commence to look for turtle tracks and nesting turtles, these can continue through the night depending on tides and season.  Sitting on a desert island beach listening to the lapping of gentle waves and watching shooting stars is part of a turtle volunteers job.  On the beach behind the turtle continues to crash through the undergrowth as it looks for a suitable nesting site.  After suitable training you will be conducting impromptu lectures to teach the tourists about turtle biology and conservation.

If a nesting turtle is discovered you will be trained to carefully remove her eggs from her nest as she lays them and will learn how to recreate her nest to transplant the eggs in the islands secure hatchery. There is no sensation in the world that matches holding a freshly laid turtle egg in your hand.
The other great experience is for those lucky enough to be on the island on a hatching day - we release hatchlings at sunset and they scramble down the beach and then get their swimming going as they swim off at high speed towards deepwater.

We are very lucky at TRACC on Pom Pom Island that there are no significant predators of turtle eggs or hatchlings. Nothing except humans digs up nests and we have a hatchery to eliminate egg poaching.  Forget the National Geographic images - you won't see lots of hatchlings die at the water edge from birds or crabs.  There is almost no mortality of hatchlings on the island and since they are well dispersed they have a great chance of avoiding any reef based fish on their way to the safety of open water. 

The TRACC turtle volunteers have released nearly 10,000 hatchlings over the past 4 years. With an estimated global adult population of green turtles between 85,000 and 90,000 nesting females our tiny island is producing a significant number of these severely endangered species.

Reviews about TRACC

More about Turtles  -   Booking a Turtle conservation trip

More turtle science  -  General information on Hawksbill turtles  or Green Turtles