Caring for turtles in Trinidad

I am writing this at a downtown Los Angeles hotel sitting on a luxurious hotel bed next to my Finnish friend. Our friendship goes back to High School, when I tried hiding behind her back from the eyes of sadistic teachers looking for kids who could not answer their trick questions.

Nothing noteworthy is happening here in L.A., so I  will write about taking care of the leatherback turtles in the Trinidadian jungle a few years back.

After darkness fell, we were waiting in groups of three on the Matura beach in Trinidad. Sweating in long-sleeved and long-legged dark clothes and using infrared torches so the turtles would not see us, we listened to insects and other nocturnal animals looking for food, like fresh Finnish blood…

Finally, we could see contours of something whale-like growing on the surface of the water. When it reached the waterline it turned out to be a huge turtle, a leatherback turtle. Very slowly, the big ocean creature, weighing almost 200 kilos, crawled its way onto the back until it was 20-30 meters from the waterline before starting to dig a hole in the sand with the strong back-flippers.

Once it stopped digging and started laying eggs, we started checking and documenting its condition. If it wasn’t already equipped with identification tags in its flippers, and a chip in its shoulder, we would tag it and shoot a chip under its shoulder skin. One of us would register the location of the nest with the help of a GPS, so that the morning staff could mark the nests and protect them.

Closer to midnight more and more turtles came, keeping us busy. A few turtles needed help with digging, for example if a shark had bitten part of the flipper. Then you had to be quick and keep the same rhythm as the turtle in order not to be hit by the healthy flipper.

After midnight the arrival of coming turtles gradually ebbed and in the small hours we called it a night and were driven back to the little hostel where we were staying. The same experience was repeated night after night.

The organization that coordinated our stay in Trinidad is called Earthwatch. It is one of several environmental organizations that arrange environmental tourism trips wherein volunteers help locals take care of animals, plants or other elements of the environment. As a volunteer you have to pay for your travel costs, the stay, insurance, vaccinations and any other expenses involved in the experience. Therefore this type of volunteering is not cheap, but the experince uniquely enriches life. Even while having a city holiday in Los Angeles, memories of tropical nights may fill your empty mind…


One thought on “Caring for turtles in Trinidad

  1. Joy, thanks for another account of your full and colorful life: this one a nocturnal observation, tagging, and aiding of turtles in Trinidad!


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