Gales Point’s Kids Need Our Help!

Dr. Todd Rimkus is looking to raise funds for the children who live near the turtle nesting beach.

“Gales Point School has lost its funding for its school lunch program. I have been asked to raise $600 to provide the start up funds for this program. The program provides lunch to students for $1 but many can’t afford this cost, so this money will get them started and it should be able to be sustained for several months. You can donate to hawksbillhope.org or send a paypal payment to turtlemn@gmail.com. Either way, if you give more than $25 I will send you a turtle necklace made by a local villager of Gales Point. Thanks for your support!! Any donation amount will help us to reach our goal.”

The children of Gales Point are the future of our turtle conservation efforts, so it’s our turn to help them!

Meet CareNaTo!

Our Beach Clean Up Day was a wonderful success, and the very night following the litter removal, we were able to find a female hawksbill during nesting and attach a tag!

She was named CareNaTo in honor of Andy Brown’s Caretta Nature Tours:

 

You can follow CareNaTo here:

http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/index.shtml?tag_id=117993

Beach Clean Up Day Needs Help!

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Currently, we have a big group of volunteers ready to clean up the litter on Manatee Bar Beach this weekend, the important beach where our hawksbills lay their eggs. But we’re short of the funds needed to get this massive job done! If you can help us out at all, please donate to Hawksbill Hope and the Beach Clean Up Day through Paypal to trimkus@marymount.edu.  There is a link to the right of this page!

Here’s a picture of beach litter taken by Sarah Gulick last year:

Photo Property of Sarah Gulick

 

As you can see, this is a MASSIVE job.  Not only does the litter make nesting difficult and dangerous for the mother turtles, it makes it difficult and dangerous for the volunteers who patrol the beach for Hawksbill Hope’s research.  Here’s a photo of what a night patrol looks like to a turtle tracker via headlamp:

 

 

And worst of all, litter can mean life or death to hatchling turtles.

 

Please help us out if you can.  For donations of $50 or more, we’d love to send you a turtle pendant necklace from the artisans of Gales Point, Belize.  Each necklace is completely unique and hand-carved from coconut shell.

Made By Shelly in Gales Point

Big Mama’s First Little Girl!

The first snapping turtle egg, laid by our rescue Big Mama, has begun to hatch today! She is peaking her head out and waiting for her sisters to begin hatching too. We’ll keep our eyes on them and they should hatch this week!

Where the Heck is Belize?

I bought a bumper sticker in Belize last year that says this, except it doesn’t say “heck!”  A lot of people know nothing about Belize, and it’s actually a newer country because it was originally a British Colony as a part of the British Honduras.  The map on seaturtle.org is confusing without knowing some Belizean geography!

Belize itself is nestled next to Guatemala, with Mexico bordering the North and the Caribbean Sea bordering the East. Moochula has been traveling around South of Belize City, which is that little peninsula hanging out at the very top of the map. At the very bottom of the map, on the coast, would be the big town of Dangriga. The landlocked water that you see are the Northern, Western, & Southern Lagoons (from top to bottom). Gales Point, our headquarters, is a peninsula protruding in the South of Southern Lagoon, but it isn’t shown in this map. As of yesterday, Moochula was plotted near an island called Horseshoe Caye (which is up for sale if you’re in the market). Where will she go next?

Check out Belize on Google Maps for a better idea of Moochula’s home!

 

Big Mama Update!

We have good news from Marymount’s turtle lab.  Remember the rescued snapping turtle, Big Mama, from a previous blog post?  We finally discovered what she likes to eat:  CHICKEN!  She turned her nose at fish and pellets, but picked her chicken to the bone!

 

This is a great sign that she is healthy and she may be a permanent resident of the lab, stop by and say hi!  She’s less shy now and will take a good look at you instead of trying to hide in the corner.

 

And watch for updates on her eggs…we’ll be checking on them beginning the last week of August to see if they hatch!

 

Become a Turtle Tracker and Win a Free T-Shirt!

Would you like to be a TURTLE TRACKER?? Now’s your chance; it’s easy! All you have to do is check our turtle Moochula’s map on seaturtle.org. The satellite tag on Moochula’s shell sends the information with her location, so that each dot on the map represents the last place Moochula was at! The first dots are on the beach, in pink, where we released her. Now she’s been swimming around, and hopefully she will come back onto the beach to lay more eggs.

That is where YOU come in! The first person to send a Facebook message to Hawksbill Hope telling us that Moochula has a new dot on the gray part of the map, WINS A FREE HAWKSBILL HOPE T-SHIRT!  So make sure you “Like” Hawksbill Hope on Facebook, become our “Friend,” or join the Event!
Check the map everyday and as soon as you see that Moochula has come to the beach, message us! Then we know to send someone in Belize to that part of the beach to look for a nest from her. If you were the first to tell us, you get a t-shirt in your size. If not, then there will be three more turtles to be tagged this year and we will run the contest again!

 

Turtle Tracking Contest--Where's Moochula?

Turtle Tracking Contest--Where's Moochula?

Hawksbill Hope Would Like To Be Your Friend!

Hawksbill Hope is looking for friends on Facebook!  Be sure to add us as a friend!

https://www.facebook.com/hawksbill.hope

 

We also have a fan page where you can “Like” us!

https://www.facebook.com/hawksbillhopebz

 

Tagging Moochula the Hawksbill Turtle

Less than a week after arriving in Belize, Dr. Rimkus & our team of Turtle Trackers have already obtained our goal! We found and attached a satellite tag to a hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).

 

Turtle Trackers with Moochula

Group photo by Sarah Gulick

 

For a little bit of a background, at Marymount University, Dr. Rimkus and his students do ongoing satellite telemetry research through Hawksbill Hope. Satellite telemetry is a great way to track animals who make long migrations (such as sea turtles) because the tag itself, which is attached to the animal being tracked, sends GPS data to satellites overhead, and then from the satellite to your computer. Anyone can see a map where our turtles are online at seaturtle.org.

 

Moochula's Track

From seaturtle.org

 

We work specifically with hawksbill sea turtles. They are especially important because they are critically endangered, and because they are carnivorous they ecologically benefit the beautiful, fragile coral reefs in Belizean waters. (They eat things that might compete with or harm the living coral.) Kevin Andrewin, a native Belizean, has been doing research on these turtles for many years, and we come to help him out.

 

Now for the exciting story!

 

We have already tagged our first turtle this year! Yesterday morning, Sunday the first of July, a team of Turtle Trackers called Dr. Rimkus to tell him to hurry over with a satellite tag because a hawksbill turtle was ready and waiting! The Turtle Trackers had been walking up and down the beach where the female hawksbills come to lay eggs, and that’s how they found our girl. (The job of Turtle Tracking involves miles and miles of walking in sand and jungle through litter and seaweed in the middle of the night; it is no easy gig!) She was trapped under trees and branches on her way back to the ocean, and had to be dug out. When we arrived with the tag, she was placed on a makeshift platform so that her flippers couldn’t touch the ground. That way, we could glue the satellite tag to her shell without her being able to run away. It still took at least 6 people to hold her up, though!

 

Platform

Belizean Trackers put together the platform. Photo by Sarah Gulick

 

First, a small area of her upper shell (carapace) had to be sanded, towards her head. This helps the glue hold on better.

 

Sanding

Dr. Rimkus lightly sands part of the carapace. Photo by Stephanie Marzullo

 

A patch of putty-like epoxy glue attaches the satellite tag to the shell, which then has to dry for about an hour.

 

Applying Epoxy

Dr. Rimkus applies the first layer of epoxy. Photo by Stephanie Marzullo

Glued Tag

First layer of epoxy on Moochula's Tag. Photo by Carol Wong.

 

Then, more gooey, waterproof epoxy is poured over top of the tag (except for the antenna and the sensors). That has to dry for between 45 minutes and 2 hours.

 

Second Layer

Second layer of epoxy. Photo by Stephanie Marzullo

 

Once the glue has solidified, the turtle can be released back in the water, but before that she has to be held the entire time! I was lucky enough to hold one of her front flippers for awhile, and give her some loving stares into those dreamy big black eyes. Eventually I just had to give her a kiss on the forehead.

 

Me & Moochula

Me & Moochula. Photo by Stephanie Marzullo

 

Luckily, this turtle was very cooperative, possibly because she was so tired out from being stuck on the beach. We really appreciated that, because she was HUGE! Kevin asked one of the “professional” native Belizean Turtle Trackers what he estimated her weight to be, and he said “700 pounds!” We laughed, and Kevin decided that she was actually probably between 150-170lbs. For perspective, the largest hawksbills get is about 175lbs.

 

Moving Moochula

How many Belizeans does it take to lift a turtle? Photo by Stephanie Marzullo

 

Kevin also estimated that she was at least 100 years old. But she was also very beautiful, with a surprisingly clean shell and only a couple barnacles. It will be interesting to get back her satellite data to find out where she goes to keep her shell so clean!

 

Me & Moochula

Me and Moochula...again! Photo by Carol Wong

 

While we were waiting for the glue to dry, we thought up some names for her. I thought up a couple of silly ones, and others thought up some pretty or girly names. None of them were quite right. Sarah Gulick thought to ask Leonard Myers, the native Belizean Turtle Tracker who actually found her on the beach. At first he didn’t want to suggest anything, but Sarah talked him into telling us what his idea was, and it’s a good thing she did because he is the one who came up with “Moochula!” Moochula is pronounced “mOO-chuh-lah,” and it is a Creole word that is indigenous to the village we are staying in (Gales Point) which means “fine,” “nice,” “kind,” or “girl I want to dance with,” depending on who you ask. Because it is a local word from an unwritten language, the definition is undefined, and we had to make up the spelling. But the coolest thing about this name is that it comes from the lyric of a traditional Gales Point drum song! How many turtles do you know who have their very own songs?

 

Sambai Dancing

Kevin Andrewin dances the Sambai. Photo by Emilia Jagura

 

Finally, once her glue dried and she had been named, Sarah wrote “HAWKSBILL HOPE MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY” on the tag. Dr. Rimkus and Kevin checked to see if she was carrying any eggs, but she wasn’t; she must have laid them before getting stuck on the beach and hopefully we will find her nest later. The professional Trackers released her as we all watched. She quickly dashed to the ocean and I immediately wished we’d gotten to spend more time with her. She’s a special lady!

 

Release

Moochula returns to the ocean with her new tag. Photo by Stephanie Marzullo

Special thanks to Carol Wong, Stephanie Marzullo, and Sarah Gulick for capturing the moments!

Rescued Turtle Lays Eggs in Marymount University Lab!

Dr. Rimkus recently rescued a big common snapping turtle.  She was hit by a car, and he had to glue her shell (that’s the white lines you see in the picture below.)

 

Big Mama

 

Exciting, right?  Well, she was also carrying eggs!  When she first came to us a few weeks ago, she was skittish and moved to the back of her tank when people came by.  She’s gotten used to us and seems to be much more content.  I nicknamed her “Big Mama.”

On Tuesday of this week, Melany and Dr. Rimkus used injections of oxytocin to induce egg-laying.  It worked really well and luckily for Melany she laid 19 eggs that same day!

 

Big Mama's Eggs

 

The process was very similar to last year when approximately 40 mother turtles were laying eggs at the same time and keeping Melany up night and day.  This time, there was only one mother to be checked up on, and because the eggs aren’t part of research they didn’t need to be weighed and numbered.  However, they did need to be removed from the tub Big Mama was laying in quickly, before she could accidentally squish them, and then placed in sand.

 

Big Mama's Eggs

 

The eggs are now in an incubator in Marymount’s Biology lab where they will incubate for about 2 months at around 30 degrees Celsius (more females!).  Dr. Rimkus is optimistic that some eggs will survive and hatch around the end of August.  Because Big Mama suffered some major trauma (as you can see by the glue on her shell!) we were worried that the eggs might not survive.  However, mother snapping turtles have the ability to expel eggs that are not viable, so we are hoping that Big Mama held on to these eggs for a reason.

 

Close Up

 

If you look closely, you can see that part of the egg is whiter than the rest.  This is a very good sign that there is a living embryo in there.  Last year, Melany explained that a painted turtle egg has “started” when the pink egg turns white.  This is the same thing, except the snapping turtle egg is white all over, and the sign that it is “starting” is an even whiter patch.  Now Melany will cover the started eggs with sand, and in two months we will know for sure if the eggs survived!

 

 

The morning after Big Mama laid those 19 eggs, Dr. Rimkus came in and checked her for eggs by feeling underneath her shell.

 

 

Before she laid the eggs, she was a lot more docile, and even Melany had no problem picking her up by her tail and moving her to her birthing tub.  After releasing her eggs, though, she’s gotten a lot more feisty!

 

 

Dr. Rimkus had to flip her onto her shell first.  She did not want to cooperate.

 

 

Finally he was able to check and found no more eggs.  Maybe this turtle wrestling was to get Dr. Rimkus warmed up for Belize where the turtles will be even bigger.

 

 

She must be relieved.  Now she can relax and retire.  For now she will stay in the lab so we can keep an eye on her.  Congratulations, Big Mama!

 

UPDATE: Dr. Rimkus reports that 13 of the 19 eggs have started.  Cross your fingers!

2ND UPDATE: Melany reports that 18 of the 19 eggs have started!  Whoa!