We had a super cruising day yesterday… We got going fairly early from Prickly Bay, catching a bus to St. Georges and then another up to the ‘Grand Etang” area and the trailhead for the hike up Mt. Qua Qua.
The trail, which was well maintained, followed a mountain ridge around the volcanic lake, slowly windy it’s way up and down to Qua Qua. Quite a challenging walk with steep ascents and descents along the way. I also realized that we were right on the ridge when the vegetation thinned out some and we were perched up there will steep drop offs on both sides – making our trek up Helvelyn seem somewhat easy! Normally I’d suffer major vertigo, but the thick vegetation provided a sense of security – and I guess a grab hold should one miss-step. It was a very enjoyable walk up and back.
Best of all: there’s a bar at the trail head so we were able to enjoy a couple of beers on our return!
Later in the day, we took a taxi ride with a van full of other cruisers, clear across Grenada to the North East point, to one of the three sites in the world where Leatherback turtles come to lay their eggs… The description of the event was something like: ‘We’ll show you a turtle laying eggs, but we’re not sure when…” We arrived at the beach around 9:00pm and got lucky that by about 10:30 our group was allowed to walk along the beach to where a turtle had already started digging out her nest. As we walked in darkness, we could just make out another black blog coming out of the sea for her turn.
It was a fascinating scene. For one, I had no idea how large these creatures are – our missus was about 1300lbs, shell dimensions 169cm long, 130cm across the widest part of the ‘shell’ – with head and back flippers, she was probably 7ft long and later when we saw her front flippers, realize she had a ‘wing span’ of about 7ft! Her shell isn’t! It’s more like leather and moves with her movements and breathing.
It was a little disconcerting about how close we got to the animal while “researchers” took down her measurements and carefully managed the egg drop – one researcher was able to hold a back flipper out of the way for the other researcher to catch and place each egg in the nest – thus preventing breakage. Leatherbacks are very threatened and only one in 1000 little’uns manage to get to maturity. Anything they can do to change the odds is what they’re doing. We were able to watch the eggs being dropped into the nest.
After dropping her load, she then proceeds to smoosh the sand back in place and then pat it down with rear flippers. Then she starts moving sand with front flippers around to the back to completely fill in the hole, and then basically tramps all over the area before heading back down to the beach and out to the ocean. The whole process start to finish takes about 3 hours… She’ll be back in a couple of weeks to repeat the process. Apparently, she lays 50 – 150 eggs in each nest – some with yolks, some without (cushions) and then will repeat 5 or 6 times during the season…
Besides being massive, they’re pretty prehistoric looking! The head is somewhat grotesque and her mouth a jagged affair. As she’s smoothing all the sand back in place, you can hear her wheezing at the effort – can’t be easy for this mammoth who’s basically weightless in the ocean at all other times…
According to our guide, Leatherbacks can swim as deep as 4000ft, staying down for an hour or two before coming back to the surface for air. They must be able to dive faster than me!
Unfortunately, with light restricted to red only, I was unable to capture any photos. I also brought completely the wrong lens – since I thought we’d be miles away from the critters… As Laurie points out, rather weird that we’re able to get within a foot of this highly endangered species as she attempts to re-populate, but are held back 50 yards from the stones at Stonehenge!!!
To round out the day, we got a great view of the southern cross while watching our missus do her thing!
We were lucky in our timing – in that we were back in our boat by 1:30 am – some of the previous visitors were not back until dawn! Even so, with the good walk and late night, we’ve decided today is going to be an easy day!!!