On our first full day at the Magdalena Bay campsite, we experienced a process know as “the 24 hour turtle watch.”
A net designed to catch only turtles is deployed and checked every two to three hours, so turtles can be captured and studied but face no risk of drowning. Our job was to accompany the RED team in crews of 3 to shoot footage of the process. Information on the size, weight and other characteristics of turtles was gathered and recorded by RED and Grupo Tortuguero for conservation research.
At 9 a.m. the first crew of students set out with the turtle monitors to set up the 500-foot-long net across the bay.
It took until 4 p.m. for the first turtle – a juvenile — to be entangled and retrieved by the boat with Dr. Luskay’s team.
The class affectionately named the shining green animal Michelangelo. The team measured the height, depth and width of the turtle, weighed and tagged him so that they could track him if he were captured again. Once the vital statistics were taken, the turtle was released back into the water, to a round of applause — followed of course by our crew and underwater cameras.
The next turtle was captured during the 9 p.m. watch, twelve hours after the nets were set up. The animal was enormous, eliciting gasps as students filmed the fishermen heaving three times to bring it aboard the panga. It took five minutes for the team to free it from the net. Back ashore, four men, with steel poles across their shoulders, were required to lift the turtle off the beach long enough to get its weight – a remarkable 243 pounds. This was the second capture for this turtle, which had been named Loreta the year before.
At midnight, turtle number three was caught – a medium-size animal, also a recapture. The crews continued into the night as we covered the midnight, 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. watches.
Once the 24-hour survey was complete, after breakfasts Don Chuy Lucero and a small crew headed out to retrieve the turtle net and we were pleasantly surprised to see they captured a final turtle in the process. As the turtle was inspected and measured, it became clear immediately that it was our third re-capture of this survey.
To chronicle the departure of our final turtle, Adam Yogel grabbed his diving mask and a Flip cam and circled out into the shallows off the beach.
Once it was free of the bottom, the turtle accelerated with startling speed and, with a few strong strokes of its flippers, raced past his camera, but not before he captured a last look at this remarkable animal bound for freedom.