Turtle season

A sea turtle season to remember

A lot has happened since the last blog post. And I mean A LOT. So where to begin? I’ll probably try to tell our story about the 2022 turtle nesting season in chronological order, even though I might forget a few things.

Let’s start with July!

Earlier in June, Melvin and me decided to double the size of the hatchery as we prepared ourselves for Hawksbill nesting season (this species starts to nest sooner than all the others). Remember: The Eastern Pacific Hawksbill turtle prefers to nest on the small beaches in the Padre Ramos estuary which we don’t patrol ourselves, so we only buy a small portion of the nests while the big majority goes to the other turtle project called “Casa Carey” – those guys have been around for several years already and specialize on the protection of the critically endangered Hawksbills.
Our very first Hawksbill nest was delivered to us on the 2nd of July, and altogether we incubated 17 nests of this species.

Also in July, we received our first intern for the season: Tammy from China who is studying biology in the UK and found out about us through her university. Tammy was super passionate about nature photography and birds, while she had never worked with turtles before. Having lived in big cities for all her life, she was astonished by the clear night sky full of (shooting) stars, and a little bit frightened by all the critters and mammals living on our property. With Tammy, we started going on night patrols and also had some very first encounters with our beloved Olive Ridley turtle – we buried the first nest of this species on the 29th of July.

Even though Tammy had no companionship from other interns during her stay, she enjoyed her 4 weeks at MEMANTA to the fullest. We loved the intercultural exchange with her and even got to try some real chinese food made with nicaraguan ingredients 🙂 Unfortunately Tammy left a few days before the very first nest was due to hatch, but we made sure to send her pictures of what she had missed.

Our first hatchlings in August

Mid-August we welcomed interns Anna-Lena from Austria and Milena from Germany. Those two became a dreamteam, which we are so happy about – because there’s nothing better than finding a friend for life while traveling to the other side of the world! Anna and Milena were able to witness the very first Hawksbill hatchlings and helped us find, buy and bury dozens more nests, now mostly of the Olive Ridley turtle, as the nesting activity was quickly picking up.
By September we already had 40 nests in our hatchery! Also, Milena did her own little field study regarding temperature patterns in the hatchery and on the beach. It’s safe to say that the two young ladies had a wonderful time here, and Milena fell so in love with the place that she even came back for another quick visit in December!

In September it got craaaazy

Stina, a geography student from the same university I graduated from, stayed with us during September. During the first weeks of her stay she was all by herself, enduring thunderstorms, hour-long nighttime rains, inundation and mosquito hell, but she also had looooots of turtle nests for herself. By that time, we were in turtle high season, meaning we patrolled the beach and guarded the hatchery every night, released babies whenever it was due, did nest exhumations in the afternoon and collected lots of data.
As it was only the three of us, we couldn’t show as much presence on the beach as we would have liked, which means that we didn’t find a lot of turtles on our own but bought the majority of the nests instead. That’s why we were more than happy about all the nest sponsors from overseas and the ongoing support of the MSV Nicaragua.

Full house in October

Okay, you won’t believe me now, but our hatchery – once again – was FULL by October. The place still looked very neat during August and September but became quite chaotic afterwards – we seem to have this problem every year, no matter how big me make the hatchery 🙂 That’s because in October, most of the nests are still incubating while new ones come in at an alarmingly fast rate. In the end, we frequently had to deny nests that egg collectors brought to us. Not only because we were out of space, but also because we didn’t want to stress our budget too much, because remember: Every nest we don’t find ourselves needs to be bought at the current market rate, which means we spend about 15 to 30 dollars for one single turtle nest!

This season, we incubated some nests in the ground and some in our iconic colourful bags, to see which method brings better results. I really like the combination of the two methods, which turn out to have similar success rates, even though it seems that the ground nests have more favourable temperature patterns and cope better with heavy rains.

In October, geography student Annika came to help us out during the busiest time of the year. And oh boy, did we have some memorable, crazy and funny encounters both with turtles and with people on the beach (the people are of course all very nice, because we all belong to the same village)! There was rarely a night patrol which ended uneventful. I’ll never forget that stupid turtle that only laid about 14 eggs after having pushed for like 30 minutes and we got nearly caught in the worst thunderstorm ever because of that. But it was quite an experiment to see how well a nest with only 14 eggs would do… well, it didn’t do too well.
Annika also was lucky enough to collect eggs from the first Green turtles that paid us a visit. When she was not busy doing turtle work, Annika worked on some personal projects which reflected her interests in media, tourism and human-environment-interactions. She was always keeping herself busy, and it seems that she loved every minute of it.

With Annika becoming a good friend of ours and never saying “no” to some good ol’ rum, the now sacred Fiesta season started at MEMANTA – this means that every Sunday we would go to the bar in the village and dance with all the lads that were dying to show their moves to us foreign ladies. I mean… we also need a break from being all serious and concerned about the extinction of the animals… right?

But let’s keep talking about turtles: Below you can see some of our best shots that we made while collecting fresh, slimy eggs from the mama turtles. The one on the lower right is Annika with a Green turtle! And above that is Annika with an Olive Ridley turtle… Annika simply collected a looooot of eggs 🙂

Oh by the way: We also release baby turtles at night with red light, but because they are so quirky and moving soooo fast, it’s impossible to get pictures of good quality with a simple phone camera. So most of the pictures from babyturtles that we show to you are from nests that hatched during the late afternoon and were released right before sunset.

November / December: Madness and joy

By November we already had safeguarded 127 nests, which was a new record! To our big pleasure, Annika decided to stick around a little bit longer. November would be a big month for us, because we welcomed four more interns, which means that our accommodation was nearly full!
The “newbies” were biology students Melissa, Vanessa and Julia from Germany as well as biology student Anna from Switzerland. So for about 6 weeks, there were german-speaking, turtle-loving ladies all over the place in the small town of Venecia!

Melvin and me were so happy to see how the young women enjoyed every minute of their internship. They were impressed and impacted by the simpler way of living – many of them said that they felt “free” and “content”, something they haven’t felt in a long time back at home. The atmosphere was lively and cheerful, especially with all the laughter, gossip talks and game sessions taking place in the Rancho. I loved to go down there every morning during breakfast hours so we could exchange all the interesting stories from last nights’ patrols and hatchery shifts.

By that time, we were in the middle of hatching high season so it wasn’t too uncommon for the girls to release between two and five nests in one night. We also measured the temperatures of various nests and compared them once again to the natural nesting spots on the beach. The results were a little bit surprising, to be honest: Even though rainy season was over and the days were always hot and sunny, the mean temperatures of the nests turned out to be quite low – due to our shading, the presence of trees around the hatchery and the very cool nights when air temperatures dropped to 22°C. All in all, temperatures were favouring the development of male turtles, so we need to make our hatchery a little bit warmer next season if we want to achieve a balanced sex ratio.

With the November team of 7 being out and about, we got really lucky and found more turtles on our own than ever before. This was surprising because the nesting season was already slowing down, but the fact that there were less poachers on the beach seemed to work in our favour (once the ocean is calming down in November, most unemployed people start to go fishing instead of collecting turtle nests). Also we did two patrols every night instead of just one, so in the end we had many wonderful encounters with Olive Ridley turtles. We also found ourselves a new mascot: Stumpy, the turtle without any hind flippers who still manages to come ashore every year and dig her nest with human help.

Our last guests in January

Last but not least, we welcomed two young men from Germany in January – Tom and Paul – who took care of the last nests in the hatchery, apart from doing some maintenance projects and woodwork together with Melvin. Tom also worked on his own project: He did a plant inventory across the various micro-ecosystems on our beachfront property, and by doing this he was able to identify various plants we hadn’t known before. Unfortunately, the boys didn’t get the chance to see a mama turtle, but they still witnessed some hatchlings making their way to the sea and experienced nature at its best in and around Venecia.

With their departure, both the turtle season and the intern season came to an end at MEMANTA.

And apart from all that…

…we also found some time to discover new hidden places in the closer surroundings which will give us nice options for future tours with our interns, volunteers and clients. Just have a look at the pictures below!
Furthermore, we started a YouTube channel and have already produced a few videos with informative, yet humorous content – hopefully we will be able to increase our reach and show the world that conservationists shouldn’t take everything too seriously.

From now on, it will be only Melvin and me until the new season starts in July. We decided to not accept any interns during the dry season as there is little to do and we feel like we need a break as well, enjoying some lonesomeness just like in the old days. So I guess there’s not much left to say other than: See you soon!

1 thought on “A sea turtle season to remember”

  1. Toller Post und super Bilder! 👍 Da hat Melvin ja ganze Arbeit geleistet mit der verdoppelten Hatchery. Auch mega cool, dass ihr so viele Interns hattet, dass ihr in der Hochsaison die Patrouillen verdoppeln und so mehr Nester sichern konntet. 🐢
    Auf den Fotos kann ich schon so einige neue Details erkennen, die bei meinem Stay vor einem Jahr (krass, wie schnell die Zeit vergeht) noch nicht da waren. 😃 Etwas überraschend, dass eure Schwimm-Riesenschildkröte aus Managua immer noch hält! 😄
    Und Milo und Yuma können ja immer noch hervorragend im Weg liegen. 😂🐕

    Genießt die wohlverdiente Auszeit bis Juli!
    Schöne Grüße aus dem kalten Norddeutschland! 👋


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