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An Amusing Moment

tanny

By tanny

23 comments


An Amusing Moment

For eight years I was employed by an oil company on an isolated island off the North West Coast of Western Australia on a fortnight on and a fortnight off rotation. After working twelve hours for the company I would spend my recreation time working as a volunter for the environmental department of the Western Australian Government. I would monitor the birds throughout the years and make a scientific study of the Marine Turtles that frequent the Island, especialy during the nesting season. Throughout a persons life one experience’s amusing moments, I hope you all wouldn’t mind me sharing this one amusing moment in my life with you.


The time was ten thirty pm and I was heading for the largest beach on the Island, the one at the northern end. It was one of those warm, humid nights with not a breadth of wind. So far I’d had quite a successful night with three Hawksbill turtles tagged and measured on the Pipeline Beach. Flushed with this success I decided to continue on and see what results I could get on Cooks Beach. The humidity caused me to perspire profusely and I was caked in a film of gritty sand. The night was dark and I had to use the large Dolphin torch to negotiate the treacherous, pot-holed, rocky surface. I preyed for the moon to rise because I knew it would be a full one tonight.
The light of the Gas Flare from the Oil Rig offshore made it possible for me to see along the beach from the cliff top overlooking the beach. I could make out the tracks of at least three recent visitors. One track had no corresponding trail back to the water, another track showed that a turtle had been and gone, and at the far end of the beach I could make out the dark form of a turtle heading back to the water after having possibly laid it’s eggs. I scrambled down the cliff and raced along the beach to catch the receding turtle, but the sand was dry and soft and I am not as young as I used to be and also turtles can put on quite a turn of speed when they see danger approaching, consequently she reached the water before me.


I suppose I could have dashed in and wrestled her back to the beach like I have done in the past, but my old ticker was pounding and I was out of breath. The two turtles I had missed were Hawksbills, they don’t take as long as the Flatback and Green turtles to lay and depart. The tracks of the Hawksbill and the Loggerhead show that these turtles crawl up a beach, but the Green and the Flatback swim up, probably because they are much bigger than the first two.
I returned to the single track and knew it was either a green or Flatback, I hoped it was a green because the Flatback were a common breeder on the Island. I found the turtle deep in a body pit beneath the surface of the sand. Both big turtles go out of sight before reaching damp sand to dig out their egg chamber. This turtle had gone as far as possible up the beach before becoming obstructed by an eroded sand bank, she had then turned left along the bank and proceeded to dig there, to me a most stupid place to nest as the sand was very dry, she had already dug a vast amount of sand. I was pleased to see that she was a Green Turtle but I knew I was going to have a big problem with tagging her and secretively prayed that she had been tagged before, all I had to do then was make a note of the number. The right flipper was buried in sand and the left one not as bad but I still couldn’t make out if it was tagged or not.
I took off my pack and sat down to wipe my brow and recoup from my strenuous exercise, and to size up the situation before me. The time was just after eleven-o- clock, if I wait till after she’s finished laying and backfilled, I could tag her on her way back to the water, that would be in about two or three hours time, and my time was limited.
I pondered for a while before crawling up behind her to discover she had dug the egg chamber and had one of her hind flippers blocking my view so I was unable to see if she was actually laying. Greens and Flatbacks do this. My theory on this subject is that the Green and the Flatback nest on the mainland and larger islands where predators such as the Bandicoot and Goannas clamber down into the egg chamber, or sneak away some eggs while the turtle is laying. The smaller Hawksbills don’t do this, they nest on small islands where there are no big predators to cause them to evolve protective measures. These small turtles leave both hind flippers spread out on either side of the hole and it’s easy to see the eggs falling into the chamber.
Over the years as a tagger, I discovered that turtles become oblivious to any disturbance during the laying process and the best time to tag them is during this laying period.
Greens however are notorious for abandoning the digging of a nest if disturbed, even when they had dug the egg chamber, that’s why I was so careful when I arrived.
I decided to find out just how far she has got with her laying, to do this I had to excavate the dry sand from behind her till the damp sand by the egg chamber is reached
I started digging the mound of dry sand and became increasingly frustrated as it kept falling back. Laying on my stomach I dragged arms full of the gritty stuff that caked my
Sweat soaked body till eventually I had a hole behind her as big and as deep as her body pit.


By now I had stripped down to just shorts and proceeded to dig until the wet sand was reached and I carefully made a hole beside her flipper and see the eggs. I estimated about thirty, a bit early to tag so I returned to my pack to prepare my equipment. I clipped the tag into the pliers and wrote the date, time, place, and tag number in my notebook. I was sweating rivers and drops fell off my nose onto my notes, smudging the ink. Sand covered my body, hair, beard, and my shorts were full after my excavating.
After a while I checked the laying again and decided it was safe to proceed. I strapped on my head lamp, a handy item that leaves the hands free to work, but can be painful with sand under the sweaty strap. The dolphin torch is placed in a convenient place to give a light over the whole area. I use this as little as possible incase the light disturbs other turtles who may be arriving to nest. On a moonlit night the moon and head torch is all I need to see what I am doing
With my left foot I step down into the body pit and immediately my boot is filled with sand, I rested my right leg on the turtles back and searched for a tag on her left flipper but found none, then tucking my right leg under me I sat on her back,

I didn’t want to put my foot in the sand on the right side in fear of more sand falling down the eroded dune. The bank rose up about six feet and was only held together by the roots of the spinifex that grew on the top; the merest touch of the roots sent a stream of sand pouring down. I carefully pushed my hand beneath the sand feeling for the flipper and the innermost scale where the tag should be. She was not tagged, I knew then that I was in for a tough time and almost thought about giving the idea of tagging her away, but as a dedicated tagger I knew I had to carry on. I carefully slid off her and went to my pack to get my tape measure. I used a three meter metal tape, but should have got myself a plastic or cloth one because I invariable got the metal one jammed with sand and I had to walk around with over a meter of tape hanging out of my back-pac.
Placing my reading glasses on I returned to the turtle and once again my boot filled with sand. I measured the old girl from the junction of the skin and carapace above the neck, along the middle line to the back end by the tail and got a reading of 1030 millimeters, “criky” I thought “she’s a big one, almost four foot in length”, I’me an old “Pom’ from way back and not clued up with this metric measurements. I then started to measure her width, but to do so I had to step right over her and darn near did the splits and myself a mischief. As soon as my right foot sank into the sand, a river of the rotten stuff fell down and covered my leg and part of the turtle. After three or four attempts at reading the tape I was satisfied with 980 millimeters, just less than three foot in width. Not having weighed a turtle before I can only guess her weight to be about two hundredweight. When I was first introduced to turtle tagging, the method was to turn a turtle over onto its back and then apply the tags. I discovered that was too exhausting, especially with a big one like this old girl, I also thought it a distressing thing to do to the creature. I soon learned to apply the method of waiting for them to lay, or if they were heading back to the water I would spread-eagle myself onto their backs and hope my weight would give me enough time to tag and measure them. Only on a couple of occasions did I get dragged into the water.
Stepping back from the turtle I surveyed the situation, I had to tag her, and the right flipper first, as recommended by C.A.L.M., who supply the equipment and use my notes in their survey of Marine Turtles. As a dedicated volunteer in this turtle survey I felt I had to do my best. “Oh boy” I thought as I kicked off my boots and sox. “Wow” what a great feeling of relief as I wrinkled my toes through the warm sand. With a renewed lease of life I started towards her again, this time with the pliers tucked down my shorts I once again clambered onto the turtle. Sitting on her back in the same position as before, I leaned over and attempted to scoop away the sand from the flipper, but the darn stuff kept falling down and I had very nearly buried the poor old things head. My back soon ached in this position so I changed to laying full length on top of her


but I immediately had my chest slashed by a few small barnacles. I chopped off those barnacles with the pliers and lay down again and proceeded to dig away at the sand again, flinging it behind like a turtle back-filling. After an exhausted few minutes of this caper I took a breather and lay on top of that turtle with my head resting on my arms. It then dawned on me as to what an incongruous sight this must be. Here was this hairy middle-aged man; half naked, straddled across a turtle at midnight on an isolated beach of a small lonely island way out in the Indian Ocean. The thought of what my work mates would say if they saw me, that would certainly give credence to the lewd jokes around the camp about me and the turtles. I collapsed into a fit of giggles and it seemed ages before I composed myself, even now the thought of it makes me smile.
After I had settled down I realized I was making no headway, I had heaved sand to the front and sand to the back, but just when I thought I had a chance of clearing the rotten stuff away from the flipper, down would come another heap of sand to cover it all up again. My ribs were sore, the abrasive sand and sweat ground layers of skin from my body and as for the damage the pliers were doing down in my shorts.
With my elbows on the turtle and my chin cupped in my hands, I looked down at her head half buried in the sand. “It’s too bloody dry old girl” I said as I wiped the sand from around her eyes, they were wet with salty tears. Turtles cry all the time, even when in the water, it’s a natural way of excreting the excess salt from their bodies. Then it dawned on me when seeing those wet tears. “That’s it”, I yelled, “the sand needs wetting”. I looked around seeking water and there not twenty meters away was an ocean full of the stuff. I jumped off the turtle and dashed around looking for something to carry the water in. I found an old baler shell but it had holes and cracks in it. I dashed from one end of the beach to the other in a demented search for a container. Finally I found the perfect water-holding receptacle, my old army back-pac. I tipped out all the contents and dashed down to the water. “Strewth” the wonderful feeling of that water on my feet nearly persuaded me to plunge in but the necessity of getting back to wet that sand drove me up the beach with that leaking bag and pour it over the flipper. I dashed back to the water and filled the bag again, it took five trips until I was satisfied the sand was wet enough for me to attempt to tag.
I stepped over the turtle and scraped away the sand, then grasped the scale closest to the body and on the leading edge clamped on the tag. At that very instance the turtle drew both flippers forward and scooped a heap of sand and then swept them to the rear, she had finished laying and was starting the backfill. The flipper hit my shin knocking my leg from under me and I fell on top of her and rolled to the rear. Before I could get away she had scooped another load and I was near buried in her backfill. I crawled away spitting sand.
I was completely exhausted, totally drained of energy, on my hands and knees I looked up to see the moon rising over the horizon, casting a beam of silvery light on the water to the beach. I staggered up, stripped off my shorts and ran naked along that beam into the water. I lay there floating on my back, soothed by the gentle swell, listening to the “lap’ lapping” of wavelets against a nearby cliff.

Sorry for the quality of the pictures

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Comments

 

I'm exhausted !

28 Dec, 2009

 

me too!

28 Dec, 2009

 

Me too !!

28 Dec, 2009

 

me three!

28 Dec, 2009

 

What an amazing experience Tanny no wonder it has remained with you and thank you for sharing . I once helped with swan tagging but this nothing to what you were achieving esp with such endangered species.

Did you ever get any feed back from your efforts ?

28 Dec, 2009

 

Great story Tanny. I would be interested to here more. Bet I know your nick-name on the rig (dirty smirk)!

28 Dec, 2009

 

;-)
You little devils !

28 Dec, 2009

 

In 1991 I receaved the Volunteer of the Year award for my work with the Turtles, thats the number one out of over nine hundred volunteers in the state.
The senior scientist kept in touch for a while and told me about one of my Flatback Turtles who had returned every year to lay eggs on the same beach. This is just one of many stories of my efforts that re-wrote the story of Marine Turtles in Western Australia. I've been back in UK now for up to seven years and over fifteen years since I worked on the Island, so consequently I have lost touch with everyone out there, but I have many wonderful memories of my time on that Island.

28 Dec, 2009

 

Good bedtime story. Couldn't wait to get to the end. You certainly had lots of patience!!!

28 Dec, 2009

 

Richly deserved judging by this effort alone ..to do this on top of a demanding job as well takes great dedication.

28 Dec, 2009

 

~ my daughter and son in law went to Bundaberg last year when they were in Auastralia and saw the baby turtles emerging from the sand and making their way to the sea~they were in awe of how tiny and vulnerable they were with all those predators lining up and yet determined to get to the sea!I am glad that some of them make it!

28 Dec, 2009

 

What a great story thanks so much and your pictures where perfect so cool wish I could have been there to see it all Have happy New Year what a gift you have given us all

28 Dec, 2009

 

Great story.
Well done for all your work..
..did you take many photos of the turtles and other wildlife ?

28 Dec, 2009

 

Thanks everyone for your comments, it's so nice to know people enjoy ones writings. I will be posting more stories and poems from my past and hopefully with pictures, but unfortunately the pictures aren't the best because they are digital pictures taken from old photographs. Digital wasn't invented in those days.

28 Dec, 2009

 

Looking forward to more :o)

28 Dec, 2009

 

Looking forward to many more stories and sure the photos will have lots of character Tanny.Thank you for sharing..

28 Dec, 2009

 

That was an interesting story. You are a dedicated person

29 Dec, 2009

 

Amazing story Tanny....what a great experience even if it was exhausting!! Thank you so much for sharing.

29 Dec, 2009

 

I agree - totally out of my experience - (or should I say 'turtely' out of my experience...LOL)

Very interesting and indeed exhausting! Like the sketches. :-))

29 Dec, 2009

mad
Mad
 

A brilliant story Tanny. May be you could have done it in episodes, ... like next time ....
Its amazing to have such memories, and I wonder if the Mummy Turtle was laughing all the way back to the sea.
She may want to tag you in the future.

29 Dec, 2009

 

Smashing sketches but didn't really need them - my imagination was doing it all for me and I was howling with laughter.

29 Dec, 2009

 

Got me giggling Tanny...loved the story..."Tanny and the Turtle" .. fun one to remember...lol...

30 Dec, 2009

 

Great story! What a change from 'Well, I went to work; bus was late; boss was grumpy; had a sandwich for lunch; was kept late; got home; cooked dinner and fell asleep in front of the TV.' There's life out there! Glad to hgear someone's embracing it!

31 Dec, 2009

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