Last weekend we (Jess and Lauren) seized a last minute opportunity to escape to Blue Footprints, an off the grid eco lodge between Tofo and Barra. Although its only a few kilometers up the beach it can seem like a whole other world up there. Its nestled on the top of the sand dunes facing out to sea, with amazing ocean views.
The Blue Footprints team have been super supportive of our turtle research right from the beginning and its always a pleasure to spend sometime up there with them, within the surrounds of such a serene and truly beautiful location. The longer we spent settling in and absorbing the care free attitude and good vibes that emit from the solar powered lodge the more inspired we were to use the peaceful down-time towards some research oriented productivity.
So after quietly catching up on computer based tasks, we took the the sand dunes to conduct a 3.5km transect from Blue Footprints to the south. This section of the beach is very isolated, there are no other coastal developments and the area is frequented by villagers walking through this region to access the nearby villages. If ever there was an opportunity to poach a nesting turtle, this would be the area where it would occur.
Although no fresh nesting tracks were found, we did find the remains of three different turtles. The first one, a very small juvenile green sea turtle, was found in the lower sand dunes around a pile of fishing line drift nets, some rash vests and some buoys and rope, commonly used by spear fishers in the region. It is most upsetting when we find the remains of these small animals, likely to have only recent finished the oceanic ‘lost years’ phase of their lifecycle and become resident to our coastal waters. At such a small size, these animals are not sexually mature and its suspected that they inhabit quite a small home range area. These remains were found directly infront of Salon, a popular shallow divesite in the area, known for its resident juvenile green turtles. Unfortunately because the remains of this animal are so badly deteriorated from the sun and elements, there is no way to confirm if this is an individual that we and divers “know”.
Further along the beach we found the remains of a large adult sea turtle, suspected to be a loggerhead but when confirming species identification one cannot be 100% when the carapace has begun to degrade. This was likely to be a sexually mature animal, an age-class of turtle becoming increasingly rare in the area. Long term poaching of animals this size is an ongoing problem. Unfortunately we do not have enough information at this stage to determine if the population is stable or decreasing from removing animals like this. Based on simple biological reasoning, one can assume that removing sexually mature animals from a species that has such a delayed sexual maturity will probably not be favorable in the long run.
The next morning whilst eating a delicious breakfast and watching the boats driving past to shuttle tourists out to nearby dive sites, we were lucky enough to be treated to an amazing show. A tiny humpback whale calf splashing about in the shallows, exploring its boundaries away from its nearby mother. The pair hung about in the clear waters for quite sometime and it was a great way to start the day, especially since it is very late in the season for the whales to still be around. This time of year they are expected to be making their way further south to cooler and more productive waters in the southern oceans so the mothers can resume feeding.
After breakfast and before returning to Tofo, we happened to catch a glimspe of this spear fisher entering the water and searching about in the shallows. Hopefully he did not catch a turtle during his fishing trip.
Thanks again to all the lovely Blue Footprints staff for helping us to continue our turtle transects to monitor the rate of poaching in the area. We very much appreciate it!