Monitoring, tagging and habitat assessments of sea turtles is essential for understanding their current status and to conserve remaining populations. Because sea turtles spend only about 1% of their life on land (nesting females only), very little of their natural history is known. Our work goes toward gaining information on the demographic structure of turtle populations, including abundance of immature, adult males and non-breeding females, as well as their behavior and health status.
Volunteers work together with the trained staff to protect these critically endangered animals. The project does nightly and daily beach patrols and operates a hatchery. A group of volunteers, led by an experienced patrol leader, walks one of the sectors of the 7.1km long beach searching for nesting females. An average night patrol will take 4 hours but can last longer in case of sea turtle encounters. Once a turtle is encountered on a night patrol, the volunteers work directly with it, taking carapace and nest dimension measurements, collecting eggs and collecting data. The collected eggs will be relocated on the beach or taken to the hatchery where the volunteers on shift will build a new nest and rebury the eggs. The number of eggs, nest location and turtle identification information (tag number) are then recorded by the hatchery attendant for further data analysis, for example determining hatchling survival rate.
The approximate incubation time for all sea turtle eggs is 60 days, therefore midway through the season the duties of the hatchery volunteer increase as the hatchlings begin to emerge. At this time, all nests in the hatcheries must be checked every 20 minutes during the day and night. If hatchlings are encountered they must be counted and released in the evening to an appropriate location along the high tide line and observed until they reach the sea.