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Update: June 2001, 
Turtle Watching in Trinidad 
We departed Prickly Bay, Grenada on the afternoon of 31st May. A tropical wave had been forecast, with possible squalls, so we waited until we thought it has passed, leaving with a SE breeze of 15 - 20 knots. However a couple of hours out the wind increased to 30 knots and veered more to the S, accompanied by such heavy rain that the seas were flattened. We turned around and headed back to Grenada, picked up a mooring off the hotel and made dinner. By 8pm the weather had settled and we started out again into much calmer seas.We were accompanied by huge dolphins as we made our way through the Boca del Dragon at about 11am. In Chaguaramas we had reserved a marina berth at Coral Cove.
From the time of our arrival, we started preparing Oasis for being hauled out during the hurricane season. Our neighbours at Coral Cove, Tim and Jean on Sassie, invited us to join them on an overnight trip to see the leatherback turtles nesting on the north coast, and we jumped at the chance.  With Jesse James (Members Only maxi taxi service - but you don't have to be a member, that's just a name) we drove east and then up the coast, stopping for lunch along the way at Carol's Roti Shop. We continued northward and then west along the fabulous coastline, swept by the Atlantic Ocean.

Right: B, Jean, Tim and Jessie outside Carol's Roti Shop

We arrived at the Almendier Hotel and Restaurant in Grand Riviere where we were shown our comfortable room, and their delightful chef asked us to order what we would like for dinner later. We then had time for a rest and a walk along the beach. No sign of any turtles yet, although the beach was very churned up and there were a lot of vultures around. During the day the beach is open for normal use, but once the sun sets, one is only allowed to go on the beach if accompanied by a guide. They do their best to protect the nesting sites during the season and to keep any poachers at bay.

Left: Looking out for turtles before sunset

We had a wonderful dinner, and then went down to the beach at about 8pm. We wondered whether there would be any turtles to see. We needn't have worried, our guide immediately took us by torchlight to see an enormous turtle who was already in the process of creating her nest. Using her rear fins, she carefully removed the sand and created a large inverted cone shape, which she tamped down to firm the sides. We were asked to keep very quiet during this time, because if distracted, the turtle may have abandoned the process and returned to the sea. Once the nest was completed to her satisfaction, she started to lay her eggs. It was absolutely fascinating to watch and very moving. The guide told us that at this time that we could touch her gently, as she would be oblivious to us. After laying some 50 or so round eggs (a little smaller than a tennis ball), she started to cover them up. 

Right: the sweep of Grand Riviere beach, all churned up by turtles

Feeling very humbled and over-awed, we were astonished when the guide shone his torch around us - there were turtles everywhere! Over the course of the night, he expected there to be several hundred turtles coming to nest. During the season (April - July) each turtle may come ashore up to 8 times, laying 50 - 100 eggs each time. Although the beach is quite large, of course there are many incidents where the building of a new nest uncovers an old one, and many eggs were dislodged, for the vultures to find in the morning.

Left: the vultures wait by the river mouth, close to the beach where the turtles come ashore

As we were there well into the season, we were lucky enough to also see the hatchlings coming to the surface and making their way to the sea. Of course, we wanted to help them! We were allowed to pick them up and feel how strong they were - their instinct to get to the sea can be upset by light, and some young ones made their way towards the hotel by mistake, but we were able to pick them up and carry them close to the water's edge. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photographs at night, for fear of disturbing the turtles, but we got up before dawn the next morning, and there were still some turtles laying, so we were able to see them very clearly and take pictures. By this time, all the young ones had disappeared. 

Right: an adult female leatherback turtle, covering up her nest

Having laid her eggs, the turtle is very particular to ensure that it is not obvious where they are to be found, and despite the fact that by this time she must be very tired, she spares no effort in covering her nest and showers sand in all directions as she disguises the place. By the time she had finished, even though we had seen her laying them, we could not tell where they were. The only signs she left behind were the tracks which she made as she returned to the sea.

Left: turtle tracks leading back to the sea

What a fantastic experience!

Grand Riviere
Weighing over a hundred pounds, it takes an enormous effort for the turtles to move about out of the water
Having got away from working on the boat for a day, Graham discovers what a hammock is for - relaxing in! The verandah of the Almendier hotel is a pleasantly shady place to while away an hour or two before the turtles come ashore after dark
The turtles really are huge, as you can see when there are people nearby

All photographs © Graham Berry 2001, 2002. All images have been size reduced and compressed. High quality digital images available by arrangement.
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