Dave at the hatchery monitoring nest temperatures and collecting gas samples.
Photo courtesy of Earthwatch Institute
Team Member Monitors Nests in Hatchery
by David Reynolds, expedition team member

Hi, I'm Dave. I'm here at Las Baulas National Park working with Dr. Reina and other members of the Earthwatch-sponsored research team.

I've been studying sea turtles for about three years now. I became interested in marine biology after scuba diving for two summers in the waters around Long Island, New York. During that time I saw many interesting animals in the ocean, including a loggerhead sea turtle. The behavior of this sea turtle and many other sea creatures intrigued me. So, I went to college to earn a degree in marine biology. I'm currently a graduate student at Drexel University and plan on continuing work with other sea turtle species.

My research here at Las Baulas focuses on the hatching success of the nests that the leatherback sea turtle lays. I am comparing the hatching success of natural nests with the nests that we are moving to the hatchery. It is important to compare this because relocating nests to a hatchery is a conservation effort that must be successful. If it is not, then alternative methods to save nests need to be investigated.

Every three days I monitor sand temperatures in the nests. This helps us determine what the sex of the hatchlings will be. As the sand temperature changes throughout the season, the sex of the hatchlings should also change. By monitoring temperature we will know approximately the number of males and females that will be produced this season.

So far the temperatures in the nests have been below 29.5 degrees Celsius. This will result in male hatchlings. We recently put more nests in the hatchery and the temperatures are increasing above 29.5 degrees Celsius. The higher temperatures will result in female hatchlings from the newer nests.

We also take gas samples from the nests every three days. The gas is analyzed and can tell us if the eggs are developing. As the eggs develop they produce carbon dioxide and consume oxygen. The further the eggs develop, the more carbon dioxide is produced and the more oxygen is consumed. Both nest temperature and gas analysis can help us predict when the hatchlings will emerge.

Some of the early nests are beginning to show signs of development. The production of carbon dioxide is increasing and the oxygen is decreasing in the nests. This is good news because it indicates that the eggs are developing. We are expecting the first hatchlings to emerge on or around December 12.