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Aug 9, 2018

Hawksbill Hatchlings Released in Gales Point

Between late June and August, hatchlings, the young turtles that just emerged from their shell, are released. It is not very easy to schedule a release because it cannot be predicted exactly when a sea turtle nest will hatch. Like all babies, the hatchlings decide when they are ready. And similarly to a human pregnancy, each nest found is given an approximate “due date” of when the eggs would likely hatch. On our last trip to Gales Point Village on July fourth for a turtle tagging, we visited the nests where Hawksbill turtles had laid eggs. Today we were invited back to the village to witness the release of the hatchlings. But as we found out, we were late to the turtles’ freedom party since most had already left the nest a few days ago.  But we did see a few take their first journey into the ocean today. Reporter Andrea Polanco and cameraman Chris Mangar visited with the Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary to learn more about the critical work to ensure the survival of the Hawksbill species.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

These hatchlings are ready to explore– once they are out of their shell, they are ready to transition to life in the water. And today with some help from Chairman of the Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary, Kevin Andrewin, the “baby turtles” were released – and they made their way down to the beach – some slowly – others with a bit more excitement to test out the waters.

 

Kevin Andrewin

Kevin Andrewin, Chairman, Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary

“These little hatchlings will go and they will swim constantly for twenty-four hours at a mile an hour until they reach out. They will then hang out under the reef or sometimes in the sargassum grass or sometimes the tide will take them right back to southern lagoon in Gales Point. They will then feed and eventually grow up. Anything after like two weeks, they will want to feed so they will look for food around. And if they wash up into the lagoon where it is safe for them, they will just grow up in there. And sometimes after so many years, maybe ….identify us and we could identify them.”

 

For more than a month, Andrewin has been monitoring this nest because it’s believed that one hundred plus hawksbill eggs are inside.  And during the two months the eggs take to hatch – they are under constant threat – and that is why the nests are covered with wires and the area is marked.

 

Kevin Andrewin

“These nests have over twelve predators that really go and attack them, including the ants and worms that go and attack them. Especially like how we have the lotta rains, you will find quash, raccoon and fox out on the beach feeding. The only thing that saves these nests is that they are out in the area where people develop and they have maybe dogs and so that will come out in the day and a lot of people visit that will reduce the risk of predators. Like in site one, we already have four nests completely destroyed already. There are not many people going there in the night. The eggs have a lot of predators like the wish-willy, the snake, skunk, you could name them.”

 

And today he is back to check up on them– where we discovered mostly empty shells – a sign that the hatchlings had left,  but to our surprise a few were still inside who needed some help.

 

Kevin Andrewin

“I would assume that it laid a little bit over one hundred and thirty eggs; maybe one hundred and forty to forty-five so as to get an accurate clutch size. We know that it is a Hawksbill. I come back before the nest hatch to remove the wire, maybe a few days before – at least four or five days, I assume. Some of them hatch within the exact sixty days – the ones on top but the ones on bottom, within the changing of the rain and the temperature, some of them have a delay.  We get a hundred shells total from out of the nest. At least, I would say ninety-seven of them went out on their own and we found the other three trapped in the nest which couldn’t make out of the nest. They need team work because once the ones start to shake on the top, the sand eventually sinks and goes to the bottom and raise them up. So, it is teamwork for them to make it and those three you see trapped to the bottom, the team already went left them. So, they would be there and wouldn’t make it because ants would be in that nest and sometimes eat them and with the amount of sand, they couldn’t make it on top.”

 

But among those shells left behind – more than twenty others never made it out – and it is mostly because of the changing climate. But despite the bad eggs, for more than one hundred hatchlings to make it is good news for Andrewin. That is because the Hawksbill Turtle across the world is an endangered species – critically endangered in some regions. And while the hatchlings appear excited to go into the sea – there they will face a number of risks.

 

Kevin Andrewin

“And then after these turtle hatch and go to the sea, you have the fish, birds, a lot of things that want to eat them. So, they are at risk.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Are they at risk from humans down here?”

 

Kevin Andrewin

“Well, when they get big and big enough humans will want to catch them in nets sometimes and eat them also and people will want to catch them for their shells. So, you see the amount of danger a turtle has to go through before they make it back to nest? So, God be with them and we pray for them.”

 

The Gales Point Nesting Beach – is known as one of the most important nesting beaches across the Caribbean. Along this beach critically endangered turtle species like the hawksbill, loggerhead and green turtle would nest. And here they are protected by the Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary and the wider Gales Point community – Andrewin says that it is paying off.

 

Kevin Andrewin

“I walk from the bar mouth which is site one and we are standing right here in site four – and from there to here we have over thirty five nests already. And in this month we will have a high number of nests because sometimes every night we have two or three turtles in August which is the highest nesting season in July and August. This is the largest nesting beach with a high population and what I am seeing this year is very good because this turtle here that come back to nest was missing for like five years and at least now she has returned. For three years we didn’t have much activity in site four and now we have it early in June and July, which is very good.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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