I have been a volunteer at STCC since November 2021, and when I heard I was invited to go to Klein Curaçao I was very excited. As a day at “Klein” is very long with lots of sun and hard work, I had to get my bag ready the night before with all my gear: lots of sunscreen and water, good shoes, a hat for sun protection, gloves for excavations, my new STCC shirt and a bikini for possible snorkelling in the afternoon.
My alarm went at 5 in the morning, and I set foot on the boat in the harbor at 6:30. Our ride to Klein Curaçao was the Mermaid Boat Trips’ boat. We travel along with tourists headed for a day of enjoyment at Klein Curaçao. Our shirts read ‘Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao’ on the back, which helps us with being visible to the tourists and accomplishing one of the goals we stand for at STCC: education. Throughout the day people ask us all sorts of questions about the sea turtles, regarding the ones on Klein Curaçao and on the mainland of Curaçao. By answering these questions, we help educate people about our beloved sea creatures, the impact of human behavior on them and how we try to conserve them by protecting the turtle nests.
My first task of the day was surviving the infamous two-hour boat trip. This was a little challenging, as we had waves reaching up to 2 meters high. Luckily, the anti-seasickness tablet and staring at the horizon for 2 straight hours helped a lot. I could not say the same for some of the tourists on the boat, as they looked a little green at the end of the trip.
After 2 hours, we arrived at the uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao. When stepping off the boat, I saw that it had an abundance of beautiful white beaches and not much more. Me and my fellow volunteer went on the first dingy to shore and had to help unpack the food from the boat. We help out because STCC is sponsored by the Mermaid boat trips, which means we get to go for free and have a complimentary breakfast and lunch. In return we not only help conserve the sea turtles, but we also help with unpacking the boat, setting up breakfast and cleaning up after lunch.
After setting up the breakfast, we went on our first beach walk to one of the fishermen, inquiring whether they had seen any activity this past week. They let us know that nothing was seen or reported, nor did we see any recent tracks in the sand. We then grabbed a quick sandwich from breakfast and started our hike along Mermaid beach, the South side of the island, and Turtle beach, the North side of the island. We took a look at the list of reported nests and the ones that were expected to hatch this past week, and grabbed a rake, ‘be aware turtle nest’ signs and trash bags. We then started our walk along Mermaid beach. While walking, we kept our eyes peeled for turtle tracks, little dents in the sand possibly indicating a hatched nest, turtles in danger and plastic. I had to use all my senses, and be a true woman and multitask!
Halfway down Mermaid beach, we saw a possibly new nest . This meant we had to write the coordinates down of this nest and the date of estimated hatching. We also put up a sign that says, ‘be aware, turtle nest’. We then continued and made a little mental note of the dents in the sand looking like possible hatched nests of the past week. One of these tracks was obvious and had a good chance of being an actual nest. After walking along both Mermaid beach and Turtle beach, writing down coordinates and picking up 4 bags of plastic (!), it was time to head back to the Mermaid hut and have our lunch.
After having a nice lunch and helping to clean everything up, we still had some time left to go back to the nest to excavate it. Excavating a nest involves digging up the nest and counting all the eggshells you find. You also write down what type of turtle nest it probably is. After donning our gloves and digging for quite some time, we gave up hope that it was going to be a nest. However, all of a sudden, the sand got much softer and we came across the first eggshell! This was a really rewarding moment. After continuing our dig, we found the shells of 108 eggs. They had all hatched! I learned that when you find eggs that are not hatched, you have to carefully open them and see in which stage of development they are. Sometimes the eggs are not fertilized, meaning they never had a chance, and sometimes the eggs were only developed up to a certain stage. Writing all this data down gives us a robust insight into the health of the nest, the mother turtle, and their surroundings.
The size of the eggs showed us that this nest was probably from a green turtle. After writing everything down and taking pictures, we threw the eggshells back into the hole and closed up the pit in the sand.
By the time we had finished with this nest, we had to get back to the boat. I gathered all my things and went on the first dingy to the boat. By being on time, I still had 10 minutes left before we left to the mainland. I quickly changed into my bikini and jumped into the water with my snorkel gear and underwater camera. I really had to cool off from our hard work in the sun all day. I was only in the water for 5 minutes but saw two beautiful sea turtles. We then sailed back home again, which took us 1.5 hours. It was a very pleasant route back, as we were sailing along with the current instead of against it. I am very happy to say that we accomplished a lot that day: We reported a new nest, excavated an old one, picked up lots of plastic, informed many people about the sea turtles and the goals of STCC, and swam with two beautiful turtles. It was an amazing day!