19 October 2009

Bush Cay

Our visiting researchers departed last Thursday, and I thought I'd get a little down time. I had been so busy collecting fish with them two, sometimes three, times a day. I enjoyed every minute of it, but I was exhausted. Almost right away, however, I got an offer to go with the resident turtle researchers to the far away Bush Cay to check on nesting sites, and I couldn't turn it down.

Map of Bush Cay

Bush Cay

Bush Cay is about as far south in TCI as you can go before ending up in Hispaniola. It took a couple hours to get there by boat. It's a tiny speck of an island, but has about 75 yards of nice sandy beach - prime real estate for turtle nesting. And the beach was covered in tracks. So many that even the most experienced person with us had trouble discerning which turtles had gone where. In all I think we counted 9 individual sets of tracks, including positive nesting sites and a few "false crawls," the oldest being about 30 days and the newest about 1 day. You can actually determine the species that came onto the beach as well. Hawksbills (and the less common Loggerhead) leave tracks with an alternating flipper pattern, whereas Greens leave a symmetrical pattern. Nests can be somewhat difficult to locate, even with tracks, because the turtles cover them well and even attempt to mislead you by leaving tracks to nowhere.


Nests that have hatched are slightly more apparent because they are collapsed, leaving a funnel shape above them. We found one of these and decided to excavate - important information about the success of a nest can be gathered that way. We counted the total number of empty shells and the number of early-, mid-, and late-stage undeveloped eggs. This particular nest had a relatively high percentage of undeveloped eggs, leading our researcher to wonder if it had actually been two nests, one right on top of the other and one disrupted by the other. I'm not sure if that is common or if it says something about the availability of nesting sites in the area.


Late Stage Undeveloped, gross and stinky!

On the way to and from Bush Cay we passed the Ambergris Cays - one of which (Little Ambergris) is an iguana reserve and the other of which (Big Ambergris) is a privately-owned island and extremely high-end resort: the Turks and Caicos Sporting Club. Their website invites you to "make it yours" with "seaview homesites from $650,000 to $6.5 million USD." We actually docked there at lunch, and one of people in charge of activities invited us to eat there anytime we were in the area if we just called ahead, slyly adding that some of his guests would be really interested to see (and presumably handle and photograph) the turtles we often capture (we had a small Hawksbill on board that we had just caught at a nearby patch reef).


On the way back we stopped at Fish Cay (the site of regular South Caicos spearfishing the recent shark attack) to check for more tracks and catch any turtles we could. Almost right away we spotted a small Green Turtle from the boat and jumped in after it. Marta (an SFS staffer) and I chased it for a long time before it was tired enough for us to grab it. Well, before it was tired enough for Marta to grab it - I was considerably more tired than it was. The water was pretty deep, so our strategy was to swim above it until it needed air. Unfortunately, it still managed to surface three or four times for a short gasp before we were successful. This one had an especially nice shell.

Green Turtle

We then spent the remainder of the afternoon "Manta towing" around the bay in search of more turtles (a.k.a. we got dragged around by the boat with our snorkel gear). It's usually pretty fun to do that, but I was on there way too long and had breathed too much engine exhaust. You also get surprisingly chilly even in 90 degree water if you stay long enough without actually swimming.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome article.. I have lived this life for the past thirty years having built a residence in Middle Caicos, the largest and least developed island in the T & C.

    I have visited several nearby nesting sites west of Mudjin Harbour with others who sadly came to raid the sites for their eggs. The best I could do was to persuade the individuals to only take half the eggs and leave the rest for future growth and development of the species...

    I have spent many a day swimming with and filming Humpback Whales, Turtles and Wild Dolphins in this remote paradise and commend you for your efforts to protect our environment.

    If ever you need assistance in this regard, please feel free to contact me at eaglelanddevelopments@yahoo.com

    Some of your readers might find the following link interesting; http://www.caicosproperties.tc/Dolphin.html
    where we had several encounters with a wild dolphin that literally fell in love with my daughter..

    Keep up the good work and stay in touch.. Man-O-War Cay, nesting site for Frigate Birds is another excellent adventure as is the Blue Hole directly behind Middle Caicos. Come see us..