TURTLE LADY

Although the BRUVS project is centered around elasmobranch research, we were all given side projects to work on individually. I was lucky enough to become the ‘Turtle Lady’, tasked with creating an ID catalogue of all the turtles around Apo Reef island and Pandan island, close to Sablayan. Pandan island is home to a well-known resort as well as many enormous resident green turtles. It has been the site of many relaxing days off from the project – a place to snorkel, dive, play pool and eat bruschetta. On each visit you can find yourself snorkeling with as many as 5 turtles at once, as well as multiple Blue Spotted stingrays and Blue Spotted Ribbontail rays. From 5 visits to Pandan, I have managed to identify 20 individual green turtles, and one hawksbill turtle.

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The process of creating an ID catalogue of the turtles has involved both collecting photos from others and taking identification photos anytime we encounter a turtle in Apo or on Pandan. It then involves me staring at two images of turtles faces in deep concentration, in an attempt to distinguish between the two – think examining two people’s fingerprints. A successful ID shot would be first and foremost of the left side of the turtle’s head. Each turtle can be identified to an individual level by the markings (scutes) on the side of its face. The first photo to be taken is of the left side of the face, then, if the turtle is cooperating (sometimes they choose to behave like wild animals, go figure), the same image should be taken of the right as well as a Birdseye view of the carapace.

Apo is not quite as simple as turning up to Pandan and seeing at least one turtle, we must work for it a little. I say work, that is if you count snorkeling the length of the island at least once a day in search of turtles to photograph – I don’t! There has yet to be a snorkel where I have not seen a shark, all in a day’s ‘work’ here on Apo! Through this method, as well as a few photographs from last year’s project, I have identified 12 Hawksbill and 6 Green turtles, so far. One lucky morning, we managed to find a nest, with 8 little hatchlings itching to escape, a few days late. We were able to measure the hatchlings (they are so tiny!) and release them, dig up the whole nest and document 112 successfully hatched eggs.  Perhaps one of the best ways to wake yourself up on an island is by ‘turtle walks’ at sunrise each day, where we look for fresh nesting tracks on the beach from the night before, or evidence of a hatching event. We have noted a few potential nesting sites – here’s hoping for another hatching event before our departure!

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Nicola Jane Somerville Allan, originally from South Africa but grown up mostly in England is a European Studies and Modern Languages (Spanish & Italian) graduate from the University of Bath and a PADI dive instructor. She has been working in Philippines for over a year now and became an instructor to getter a better understanding of the marine world. She will be starting a masters in conservation and biodiversity later this year!