12 days volunteering to protect turtle nesting in Con Dao

Wednesday - 29/05/2024 15:44
Registering as a volunteer to conserve turtles in Con Dao for 12 days, tourist from Ho Chi Minh City had an "invaluable" experience.

Vinh Le, who lives in Ho Chi Minh City, still remembers his experience as a volunteer for the sea turtle conservation program in Con Dao that lasted for 12 days last July. This program was organized by Con Dao National Park and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Volunteers participating in the program must register through these two organizations, and the results are usually announced one month before the departure date. The cost of transportation and the first night's hotel room are paid by the volunteers themselves. The conservation program is divided into multiple sessions, spanning from June to August during the turtle nesting season in Con Dao. Vinh said he spent about 6 million Vietnamese dong on the trip, considering it quite cheap as he departed from Ho Chi Minh City.
"The issue is not the cost, it's the priceless experience," Vinh said about the trip. The image shows Cat Lon Beach on Bay Canh Island."

Con Dao National Park has 18 turtle nesting beaches, with a total area of tens of thousands of square meters. This marine area is the nesting site for green turtles.
Some of the large beaches where mother turtles nest frequently are Cat Lon, Duong beach on Hon Bay Canh, Cat Lon on Hon Cau, Cat Lon on Hon Tre Lon, and Hon Tai beach. All five beaches are equipped with forest ranger stations to protect natural resources and conserve sea turtles.
From April to November, over 600 mother turtles come to the sandy beaches of Con Dao National Park to lay their eggs, resulting in over 150,000 hatchlings being rescued and released back into the sea, with a successful hatching rate of 87%. During peak season, some beaches on Bay Canh island and Tre Lon island record 20 mother turtles nesting each night. 
 "Regardless of which island you are assigned to, you will encounter at least one or two mother turtles nesting," Vinh said, mentioning that he was assigned to Hon Bay Canh, so he encountered quite more mother turtles

Vinh noticed that mother turtles only come ashore to lay their eggs in the evening when there is high tide. The volunteers' shifts depend on the rising tide, and if it comes later, they may start around 11 PM to 1 AM. During their shift, following orders from the forest ranger, Vinh and his group gently step onto the sand, following the turtle tracks to locate the mother turtle. They then observe at which stage of the nesting process the mother turtle is in.
Usually, the turtle crawls up the shore to find a suitable spot, using its front flippers to sweep away the sand until it is level with the surface. Then, it uses its hind flippers to dig a hole about 50-70 cm deep, gradually closing its flippers and laying large eggs the size of ping pong balls. Each time, a mother turtle lays 70-200 eggs.

A single mother can lay up to four nests, with each nest spaced two weeks apart. If any obstacles are detected below, it will abandon the nest and create a new one. Each time a turtle lays eggs takes about 30 minutes, with some "picky" turtles taking longer. After the mother turtle finishes laying eggs, Vinh and the volunteers bring the eggs to a protected area to safeguard them from animals or people who intentionally dig them up to sell.
A volunteer collecting eggs from a freshly laid nest.
A turtle appearing on the beach during the breeding season.
The turtle egg nests are divided into two sections with or without shade to balance the ratio of male and female turtles. The temperature around the nest determines the gender of the turtles. Normally, a temperature above 29 degrees Celsius will increase the ratio of female turtles.
"On some nights, 40 mother turtles come ashore to lay eggs. Our team's record is moving 31 nests in one night," Vinh recounted
A moment of rest for the volunteers during the program. Vinh described it as a time to relax and swing on a hammock, or if they prefer, go for a quick run into the sea. In addition to monitoring mother turtles and relocating eggs, the volunteer group also guides registered visitors to observe the nesting turtles
After about 45-60 days, the eggs hatch into baby turtles and are released back into the sea. 

The conservation team uses baskets to protect the turtle eggs from being attacked. Only when the eggs hatch, do they remove the baskets so the turtles can swim back into the sea. The release of the turtles into the sea usually takes place in the morning when the sun is high. Volunteers are strictly instructed not to touch the baby turtles, especially their bellies where essential nutrients are stored for their first few days at sea. Vinh shared his "slight sadness" when he sees the baby turtles heading to the sea, as there are larger creatures waiting to turn them into breakfast, such as sharks and seabirds. "They have to learn how to survive when they return to nature," he said.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the survival rate of baby turtles until adulthood is 1 in 100. They often die due to dehydration if they don't make it to the sea quickly after hatching or if they are attacked by other predators. https://i1-dulich.vnecdn.net/2024/04/25/0a9a0771-1714028137-1714028148-1714028199.jpg?w=1200&h=0&q=100&dpr=1&fit=crop&s=P_RcbS3iulw3ycTCkIceAg
This year, the volunteer program carried out by IUCN and Con Dao National Park continues to be organized into seven sessions, from June 13th to August 21st, each lasting 12 days, with a maximum of 22 selected volunteers.

Author: Xuan Da

Source: vnexpress.net/ Translated by Xuan Da


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