Juliana at the end of a long, long nesting season!

Juliana at the end of a long, long nesting season!

— by Juliana Skuza After long, wonderful, but exhausting nesting season, I have had some time to reflect on the importance of what we are trying to accomplish. Looking back through the data we have collected so far, it becomes obvious why projects such as the Freshwater Turtle Conservation Project are necessary for the survival of particular species at risk.

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A pile of empty eggshells are all that’s left after a nest has been dug up and eaten by nest predators.

For example, in just one day I had collected 47 predated turtle nests (totaling 588 individual eggs). And I was responsible for only 1/3 of the nesting site! Estimated across the whole site, this roughly translates into 150 nests (1,800 individual eggs) predated in one day along the entire nesting site. Putting this into perspective, in one day of surveys, 1,800 eggs – 1,800 possible turtle hatchlings! –  were predated. And the nesting season lasted about 2 months! The numbers are incredible and as they say…the proof is in the pudding!

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Caught in the act: a Raccoon patrols the nesting site for tasty snacks.

Working on the nesting site, collecting nests and recording predated nests day after day can become a somewhat gloomy task until you remember that this is the reason you are here! Without us trekking through the beach in the sweltering heat and getting caught in torrential downpours, nearly every nest laid on the beach would be predated.

A nest that has not yet been predated is gently uncovered for collection. Once they have safely hatched in our incubators, the hatchlings are marked and released back into the wild at their original nest site.

A nest that has not yet been predated is gently uncovered for collection. Once they have safely hatched in our incubators, the hatchlings are marked and released back into the wild at their original nest site.

So boosting recruitment in these at-risk populations is extremely important, and could not be done without human intervention. The raccoons and other predators seem to have their egg-snacking skills down to a tee. By beating these masked villains to the punch we are able to safely protect the eggs until they hatch, ensuring their survival and release into the wild during the toughest times. Now that we have collected as many nests as we could, we are eagerly awaiting the moment when the first hatchlings of the season poke out of their shells, and of course the magical moments when they are ready to be released back into their natural habitat!