Ascension Island Expedition — Ascension Island, Day Two: The Beach
MECHANICSVILLE, Va. (Sunday, June 24, 2007) – I met Jacqui Ellick and a couple of helpers on Long Beach early Saturday morning.
Jacqui is a long-time resident of Ascension, the publisher of the local newspaper, The Islander, and a volunteer with the Ascension Conservation Centre. Besides leading turtle tours, she has been conducting her own research project on the nesting of the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas).
Green sea turtles are endangered. The beaches of Ascension Island serve as a major nesting area for the species. Jacqui’s research involves the monitoring of the numbers of new nesting sites throughout the season. She locates new nests by following turtle tracks from the shore inland, then looking for unsorted sand deposits that indicated burial of eggs – female turtles all-too-often give up on a pit before beginning the laying of eggs and will not waste effort filling an abandoned pit back up with sand.
When Jacqui finds a new nest, she records the location using a global positioning system, then she and her helpers rake over the turtle tracks that led to the nest. (This is how she can differentiate newer sites from older ones.) The work was hard – sand is not the easiest material to walk on. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for 800-pound turtles with flippers instead of legs.
The sand was littered with detritus from dug-up nests – as the nesting season wears on, it is difficult to find a patch of sand that has not been visited previously by another turtle. Seabirds and crabs, such as the Ascension Island Sally Lightfoot Crab (Graspus adscensionis), feast on the exposed eggs. Even when the nests aren’t disturbed, hatchlings that emerge after sunrise are easily picked off by predators. I observed Ascension Frigatebirds (Fregata aquila) swooping down on the beach for tasty morsels, whether alive or otherwise.
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