Created in 2006 by science journalist Paola Catapano, MINIDARWIN aims at taking groups of children on scientific expeditions coached by real scientists and science communication professionals.

On the occasion of International Year of Biodiversity 2010, theMiniDarwins are ready to leave on their third expedition, to the Amazon Forest, devoted to biodiversity and its socio-economic spin offs. The MiniDarwins will be coached by biodiversity scientists and an ecological socio-economist specialised in ethno-ecology to experience life with an Indigenous population in the Amazon Forest

During the trip, we will publish on this blog a diary of the expedition and some of the photos, videos, interviews and texts we are producing for later publication on our website, book, reportage and documentary film.

31 July 2010

Sea turtles and the TAMAR project

Sat July 31st –Marine Turtles

From the diary of Maxine

Today is one of the best day of my entire life!  We spent the day with Noronha’s marine turtles. We first went to TAMAR, a centre here on the island that works with turtles and we visited their super nice exhibition (not only on turtles but on all the marine animals they find here). We played a turtle game, where I learned a lot of things on turtles that I did not know. Since I am really interested in marine turtles, I already knew a few things. One thing I knew is that these turtles never see their mother! The mother drops her eggs on the beach and the only care she has for her babies (future babies) is that she hides the eggs in a protected part of the beach, under the sand so that they are not eaten by predators or worse, crushed by humans who go to the beach.  But I did not know that each female turtle lays so many eggs ! And I did not know that only one or two every one thousand hatchlings survive and become actually teenagers first (the scientists say juvenile)  and then grow adults. I thought at least fifty. I also did not know that the eggs that are in warm sand give girl turtles and the eggs which stay in colder places give boy turtles, and that you can only say if they are boys or girls when they are adults, not before. Not only I learned a lot of these facts with the game, but I also had a lot of fun because my turtle, the coloured one (which I think is the most beautiful) actually became adult safely, whereas the turtles of Alberto and Andres, a nice biologist from the Tamar project, always got eaten by a predator and had to go back to the starting point three times!

After the game, we went to the Praia do Porto to see how Fernando, an engineer specialized in fisheries and Lily, a marine biologist, catch the turtles and tag them. They have to do this because sea turtles are a threatened species and it is important to keep track of how many turtles there are, how much they grow up and how long they live. If they are lucky, they can live longer than us! There were so many turtles at the Praia do Porto that Fernando got exhausted catching so many, especially the last on, which was so big he could hardly carry it! All of us children were a bit afraid that the turtles would suffer from the tagging, but Lily explained to us that it’s like when we get our ears pierced to put earrings. But the turtles were not that happy to get tagged, they were constantly flapping their fins! I was so happy Lily let me carry one of them and she also asked me to measure it, it was 40 cm long, not the biggest catch of the day. I also helped Lily release the turtle once we finished the tagging, measuring and noting all these data on a waterproof pad. I was also surprised some of the turtles they caught were already tagged and even some of them had been tagged elsewhere than Noronha! If I could, I would help Lily ever day with her job!

BIRTH  ON THE BEACH - But the best part of the day came at sunset. Armando, the coordinator of the Tamar project, invited us on the Praia do Leao at 5 pm to see how baby turtles go to the sea for the first time. This was a  big emotion for all of us ! It is actually the birth of the turtles, since it is the first time in their life they see the light and go in the sea.  So we met Armando, Andreas, Carole and a few other biologists near a red stick on the beach. This is the sign that there is a turtle nest and people should pay attention, but there are so few people on the beaches of Noronha that really here there is no danger for these turtles. Armando told us that in the sand under the stick there were more than 100 baby turtles that had come out of their eggs only 3 days before and they were still under the sand because they were like an embryo, all crunched and not able to walk. During these three days, they did a lot of stretching under the sand and they were now able to come out!  None of us believed that there would be so many turtles under that small hole in the sand… and it was amazing to see them coming out when Armando started digging gently under the sand. They were so fast coming out  (who said turtles were slow?) and they were running to the sea, over passing all sorts of obstacles they found on their way. I helped my father filming them, and the most difficult part was not to be on their way, being very careful not to crush them, so many and so fast they were!  Armando told us they know instinctively where to go because they are attracted by the light of the sea. It is very important not to distract the turtles with artificial lights on the beach, otherwise they get confused and instead of going to the sea they can get lost. Another obstacle they have to overcome is the waves. They are so small that they are continuously pushed back to the beach by the waves. But then they make it! I waited to see that all 105 of these hatchlings were far in the sea and would not be pushed back on the beach. In this nest, there were 106 eggs, only one did not open, all the others had small turtles that all made it to the sea. While Armando was burying the unopened egg on the beach, we children were all hoping that the 105 hatchlings we saw being born would all make it at least to their teen-age stage and if possible to adult.
I hope that all of these small turtles who will turn girls when adult will make it back to this beach to lay their own eggs.

Armando’s Turtle Game -  From the diary of Alberto:
This morning we went to TAMAR, the special centre for the protection of Marine Turtles here on the island (Ta Mar is in Portuguese Tartarguga Marinha) and we made a game invented by the coordinator, Armando. This game was his thesis work and is really cool. Each participant is a small marine turtle just born, of a different species. I chose to be the Careta careta, since I am Italian and this turtle can also be found in Sardinia. You have to place your small turtle on a map showing the Atlantic ocean and the African and South American coasts, exactly where your turtle was born. That’s the starting point of the life cycle of your turtle. The  itinerary of each species is already marked on the map, you just have to launch the dice and go to the corresponding number. At each number something happens, and the instructions are marked on the cards (each species has its own cards).
You can:
o   get an information about your turtle’ s species
o   be caught by a fisherman’s net and stop for one shift
o   get eaten by a shark and have to start all over again because you die (which happens more often than I imagined to the poor young turtles, only one or two per thousand ! manage to get to adult age).
Andres, the biologist playing with us, and myself, were the less lucky since we both got eaten by sharks more than once. My mother and Maxine were the luckiest since they managed to get to juvenile and adult stages (and get the corresponding turtle pawns) without being eaten !

No comments:

Post a Comment